Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kind of Blue(s)

It had only been about three and a half years.

Last night, Friday night, I was supposed to photograph a concert but it fell through. At the last minute, I had no plans for the evening. The thought of staying in and catching up on the television I missed this week sounded profoundly pathetic and frustrating. I went to yoga and came home, wondering just what exactly, now that it was 8 o'clock, I could do with the rest of my evening. Go to a movie? Maybe. Dinner? I could do that I guess. Then somewhere in my brain the button went off and I knew I had to follow the urge. I was going blues dancing.

My friend Julie brought me blues dancing my sophomore year of college, knowing I had danced most of my life and thinking I might like to try something new. I remember instantly loving the smoothness and the sensuality of it, this type of partner dancing, with no specific movements required to complete it. For example, in a dance like salsa, you have the requisite "one two three, five six seven" steps done on beat in a variety of ways. But blues is very free form, very improvisational--lots of hip movements, long, langourous leg drags, dips, and more--and the music is phenomenal because it is, of course, blues. The good folks at Blues Dance New York have a great definition of it here, if you'd like to learn a bit more. And there are blues communities and events all over the country and the world, from Colorado to London to Seoul to Seattle. Incidentally, today Julie is an internationally renowned blues dance instructor, competitive dancer, and DJ. Check out her website here and see some of her amazing moves (turns out there's a video of Julie dancing on the Blues Dance New York homepage, too!)!

When we were in college, I would go with Julie when I could, but with crazy college schedules I only managed to get to dances a couple times a semester, if that. It was always something I remembered fondly, even if I wasn't very good at it, and wished I could have picked up again. The last time I blues danced was with a random group of people in Washington Square Park all dancing in front of a stereo they brought one summer those aforementioned three and a half years ago. As social dance people often are, they were kind, welcoming, and friendly. "Come to our dances!" they said. "It's always great to have a new face!" But I never did.

Honestly, I think part of me was terribly nervous. I remembered how awkward it felt to giggle nervously and say "I'm new!" when I missed a step or couldn't understand where a lead wanted me to go next. My friend Dan, another blues instructor, told me that I thought too much. "STOP THINKING!" he'd command me when we danced. "AND DON'T BREAK YOUR FRAME!" (Breaking your frame refers to the way dancers' frames face each other--they should stay as engaged as possible, not be broken, so the lead can best direct you. Dan or Julie, if you're reading this, can you please help me word this better if I didn't get it right? Thanks!) It's true, my brain would often trip me up--AAAH WHAT IS HE DOING WHERE DOES HE WANT ME TO DO I DON'T UNDERSTAND I'M SO NEW I'LL NEVER BE GOOD AT THIS!!!111!!!11!1--and I'd lose my place completely. And break my frame. Ugh.

But something happened last night where I just decided I needed to go and have fun. No, I wouldn't be dancing perfectly by any means, but I could at least try and see if I remembered anything! I remember finding out a long time ago, at another time when I was flirting with going back, that there was a Friday night blues dance in New York. Did it still happen? In fact it did! Called "FNBlues," the dances are held by Blues Dance New York, every Friday night either at Steppin' Out Studios, a dance studio, or La Nacional, a bar on 14th Street. I showered and changed and remembered to wear my shoes with the really soft soles so I could turn and move easily across the floor.

So I arrive and set down my coat, and shortly I'm dancing. And you know what? I'm not half bad! Dancing with some of the more experienced dancers is more challenging, but they are kind and helpful when I don't understand where I'm supposed to be going. I still giggle nervously and sheepishly say I'm new, but it feels less awkward this time, like it's just part of the process. I'm allowed to be new. I still notice my brain working overtime when I dance with a more experienced dancer, but then I notice it's happening and I just pay attention to the movement. "STOP THINKING!" I hear Dan say when I start to get frazzled. And then I just move and it feels good. People ask me to dance multiple times, even. I spin, I slide, I wiggle my hips, I gracefully extend my arms and it feels like this is something I should always be doing. Even in the two short hours I was there, I felt myself improve, learning to relax, learning to improvise, learning to be more confident, learning to laugh at myself and be goofy when it suits me or my partner. And I don't break my often (sorry, Dan).

Blues dances are (thankfully) not the typical dance club affair of some dude you don't know trying to grind his pelvis into your backside. Quite the opposite, you go and people ask you to dance, or you ask them to dance, and you say yes or they say yes and you dance with them for a song, say thank you, and then maybe you dance together again later. Or you say no, and they leave you alone. In an age of catcalling and other regular indecencies, it's nice to go to a place where manners and decorum are regularly upheld! Do I sound like a 1920s schoolmarm? YES and I don't care. I don't know who told guys at clubs or anywhere else that they could come up to you and touch you without your permission, but that doesn't happen here. It's a safe, respectful place. I personally like to dance with lots of different people because you never know who will surprise you--never judge a book by its cover because you could be missing out on an amazing partner (unless of course I didn't enjoy dancing with them the first time, in which case I will respectfully decline). It's one more thing about the experience that makes it easy to enjoy.

The other is of course the music. Everything is slow and sinewy, guitars that make your blood pump faster, pianos that tickle your heartbeat. Covers of Muddy Waters's "Hoochie Coochie Man and Bessie Smith's "Sugar in My Bowl," and so much more. My favorite song they played last night though was Ruth Brown's "If I Can't Sell It, I'll Sit On It," a classic innuendo-filled jam that may or may not be about an armchair. It's the stuff my soul sounds like.

I don't expect I'll be dancing like Julie any time soon, but I know in the short term I'll definitely be going back. Thanks BDNY for a lovely evening! Here's to many more nights painted blue.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

SNEAK PEEK: Women of Letters!

If you haven't already heard of Women of Letters, you're missing out. Founded in Australia by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire in 2010, Women of Letters is a live storytelling event in which distinguished women artists, writers, and entertainers come together to share personal, intimate stories in the form of a letter, to, as the founders say, "revive the lost art of letter writing." Before the event each of the participants--which, in the past have included the likes of actress Edie Falco, musician Martha Wainwright, fashion designer Rachel Antonoff, and author Meg Wolitzer, among many renowned others--writes a letter along the lines of the night's theme and reads it aloud. Past themes include "To The Person I Misjudged," "A letter to the night I'd rather forget," and more. It provides a forum for creatively minded women to share their work and continue their evolution as artists in their fields while bonding with other women in a truly unique setting. Since it began, Women of Letters has gained a following that stretches from Los Angeles to Indonesia and back, and has spawned five books. All the proceeds from the shows go to charity, as well.

Tomorrow night, Women of Letters will be live in Manhattan, at Joe's Pub at The Public Theatre in the East Village, with readers Melissa Auf Der Maur (musician, singer/songwriter and former bassist for band Hole), Rayya Elias (filmmaker, musician, hairdresser, author of Harley Loco), Janelle James (writer, director, standup comedian), Maggie Ryan Sandford (scientist, researcher, writer for Smithsonian,, The Onion and A.V. Club), Deborra-Lee Furness (actress, producer, director) and Megan Amram (screenwriter for Parks and Recreation, author of Science...For Her!). It will be hosted by writer Sofija Stefanovic. Tickets are $20 and the evening begins at 7pm.

Event founders Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire, who are both writers in their own right, were kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the event. Take a look below to learn more, and be sure to attend tomorrow night!  

Miss M: How did you come up with the premise of Women of Letters? How did it gain such a following? What was your goal when you started the event?
Women of Letters: We were inspired to start an event that would regularly showcase the work of brilliant women in some way, but it took a little while until we came up with the letter-writing concept. We’re both writers ourselves, and thought it was a nice device that other people might get excited about. Our goal was just to have more than 20 of our friends show up to the first event! From that first sold-out show we’ve gained a very loyal following, who love the event enough to keep telling their friends to buy tickets.

What made you decide to bring the event not just to New York, but to LA, Austin and Indonesia? How did you choose those locations?
In a way, they chose us - we got put on the SXSW bill in 2013 thanks to our dear friend Glenn Dickie, and then figured since we were flying so far we should do shows in other major cities in the US. Indonesia as a result of the wonderful Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. We love traveling the show.

Why do you think women need an event like this? 
As artists, women need more events where they can showcase their work to new audiences. The shows themselves are about a lot more than that though, and to be given an opportunity to openly share or bear witness to personal, intimate experiences, is incredibly powerful and unifying.

What effect do you hope it will have on your audiences?
Overwhelmingly Women of Letters events create a very tangible, human connection between reader and audience.  To be a part of something that exists only in that moment is a privilege, and we hope that the honesty inspires people to go home and write letters of their own!

How do you choose who will read at each event? 
We program women who are intelligent, interesting, hilarious and wise, in a manner that isn’t too dissimilar to formulating our dream dinner party guest list. We’ve got a long series of wishlists, starting with the most outlandish lineups to the more realistic. We’re constantly surprised by who agrees to take part in our shows, and that inspires us to keep asking because we can never predict who might say yes.

How long does it take you to assemble each reading? 
Anywhere between six to eight weeks in advance we start putting out invitations for a show.  Sometimes it gets right down to the wire, trying to lock in our final reader but we get there eventually!

What is one/ are some of your favorite moments from past Women of Letters events? 
Oh gosh, there’ve been so many shows, let alone so many favourite moments… Our first NYC show last year was extraordinary. 400 New Yorkers had lined up in the snow, on a Tuesday night in Gowanus, and those were the only people in the world who will ever hear Edie Falco talk about ‘The night I’d rather forget.’ The room was so quiet while she read, and I think everyone realised instantly that what she’d spoken about was never going to leave that room.  

What can audiences expect to experience at Joe's Pub on the 14th?
We're careful about how we curate every show - there's always a mix of comedians, writers, actors, and musicians.  The readings will range, as they always do, from heartfelt to hilarious to emotionally raw.

What is the most rewarding aspect of putting on this event? What about the most challenging?
Getting to meet the most extraordinary women, many of whom are our personal heroes, is endlessly rewarding. The charitable aspect of our shows is also obviously incredible rewarding. We’ve raised over $600,000 in Australia for an animal rescue shelter, and hope to turn a similar profit in NYC for the New York Women's Foundation. The most challenging aspect these days is dealing with the heartbreak of not being able to commute from Melbourne to New York for each show!

How has the event changed since you first started doing it?
Very little!  Since March 2010 Women of Letters has been a safe space for storytellers and a forum to share and listen.  With sold-out events across the world and five published books, we're not going to fiddle with a successful formula!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Celluloid City

When the weather doesn't even have the decency to be in the 20-degree range, falling instead blisteringly below into the teens, sometimes all I want to is curl up on my couch with a giant blanket, my La Cage Aux Folles mug filled with raspberry tea, my space heater, and a good movie. In celebration of snuggly nights in, and in spite of the current temperatures in the city, here are some of my favorite films set in New York should you find yourself in similar weather conditions in the not-so-distant future (or even if you just love a good flick!). New York has inspired countless filmmakers, and I know these films have certainly inspired me, be they in terms of writing, costume, cinematography, or what have you. This is by no means an exhaustive list of my favorites, just a few--maybe you've heard of them and maybe you haven't! So grab your popcorn or your own favorite fruity tea and enjoy.

The Thin Man (1934)
William Powell stars as the clever, charming, martini-swilling Nick Charles in the film based on the book of the same name by author Dashiell Hammett. Myrna Loy matches his wits as his feisty spouse. Nick is a former detective, but now enjoys a lifestyle of leisure with Mrs. Charles; the two decide to solve a murder, well, just for the fun of it. Cue witty repartee, gorgeous gowns, men who can wear fedoras without looking like idiots, sleazy underground mobsters in tuxedos, crime solved in high style, and plenty of martinis. If you like this one, it's the first in a series of Thin Man films Powell and Loy made together.

You Can't Take It With You (1938)
The Sycamore-Vanderhof household is bursting with eccentrics--a daughter who dances her heart out in pointe shoes at all hours of the day, a grandfather who refuses to pay taxes and goes to graduation ceremonies for fun, a father who makes fireworks in the basement, and a mother who started writing plays when a typewriter showed up at her door, among others. What happens when their more straitlaced daughter takes up with a young man who comes from a wealthy banking family? Chaos and lessons in happiness ensue. Directed by Frank Capra, it won the 1939 Oscar for Best Picture.

The Seven Year Itch (1955)
How could I not put a Marilyn Monroe movie on this list? The Seven Year Itch was actually originally a hit Broadway play, but came to the screen with my beloved Marilyn and Tom Ewell in 1955. Named for the point in a marriage at which a man feels he may start to stray, the film follows Richard Sherman as he awkwardly and hilariously crushes on and gets to know his very delightfully oblivious and very curvaceous blonde upstairs neighbor. It capitalizes on the infamous New York summer heat to tell the story, especially with Marilyn's now-famous 'white dress on the subway grate' scene.

The Apartment (1960)
The Apartment is the story of C.C. Baxter, played by Jack Lemmon, a lonely yet affable man who allows higher-ups at his company the use of his apartment for affairs with women who aren't their wives, hopefully in exchange for career boosts. One of these women is Fran Kubelik, played by Shirley MacLaine, an elevator operator in the building where he works. One night, in despair, she ends up staying longer than either of them anticipates, and the film follows the development of their interaction. The Apartment won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1960.

Cactus Flower (1969)
For a long time, dentist Julian Winston (Walter Matthau) pretended to be married to avoid commitment to his girlfriend, Toni (Goldie Hawn). But he falls for her and now has to dream up a wife to divorce, so he asks his loyal dental assistant Stephanie (Ingrid Bergman) to help him. This movie is in so many ways what I think of when I think about the phrase "the swinging Sixties"-- groovy music from longhaired musicians at cafes, love beads, record stores, and lots of eyeliner. The cast is utterly perfect, and Hawn even won an Oscar--it was her first starring role.

The Owl and the Pussycat (1970)
Felix Sherman (George Segal) is a quiet, nebbishy writer who gets annoyed when his neighbor Doris Washington (Barbra Streisand), a part-time prostitute, is making too much noise. He lodges a complaint against her, she loses her apartment, and foists herself upon him, demanding he give her a place to stay. Throughout the film, they are hilariously at each other's throats, sometimes in more ways than one.

Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976)
Set in the 1950s, aspiring actor Larry Lepinsky moves out of his parents' home in Brooklyn and into a studio apartment in Greenwich Village. He encounters a cast of unique, bohemian characters, all the while trying to be an actor, save his relationship and deal with his overbearing Jewish mother (Shelley Winters). At the time, except for Winters, most of the cast were unknowns (including a very young Christopher Walken).

The Goodbye Girl (1977)
Based on Neil Simon's play of the same name, The Goodbye Girl stars Marsha Mason as Paula McFadden, an unemployed dancer and single mother who needs to rent an extra room out when her  live-in boyfriend leaves her. Enter Elliot Garfield (Richard Dreyfuss, who won an Oscar for the part), a quirky actor who first infuriates then charms Paula and her precocious 10-year-old daughter, Lucy (Quinn Cummings).

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
This Sergio Leone epic (it's nearly four hours long) follows the lives of David 'Noodles' Aaronson (Robert DeNiro) and Maximilian 'Max' Bercovicz (James Woods), two Jewish kids turned gangsters growing up in the Bronx before and during Prohibition. As any epic should, it features elaborate sets and costumes and of course some excellent shots of New York. I'm named after James Woods's character.

Working Girl (1988) 
Working Girl,  directed by the recently departed genius Mike Nichols, is the story of Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), a smart secretary from Staten Island whose Wall Street boss (Sigourney Weaver) double-crosses her. With the help of the enthusiastic finance executive Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford), she sets out to outsmart the woman. Prepare yourself for visions of the finance world in 1980s New York--big hair, big cellphones, shoulderpads, sneakers with suits on the way to work, fantastically dated computer technology--and a very uplifting story. You never know where the big ideas could come from, you know?

A Bronx Tale (1993)
Written by Chazz Palminteri and directed by Robert DeNiro, A Bronx Tale takes place in the 1950s and 1960s. It follows the life of Calogero (Lillo Brancato), a teenager whose friendship with a local gangster, Sonny (Palminteri) worries his father, a bus driver (DeNiro) who only ever wanted him to make good. It's based on a one-man show Palminteri did of the same name and features several events from his own life. One of the reasons I love this movie so much is because my dad is also from the Bronx, and watching it with him feels like seeing what part of his experience in the borough might have been like at the time. Excellent Bronx accents, excellent music.

Party Girl (1995)
Easily not just one of my favorite New York movies but one of my favorite movies of all time, Party Girl is about Mary (Parker Posey), a quick but aimless girl with an utterly amazing wardrobe--the movie is fabulous for the wardrobe change montages alone--who gets arrested for throwing an illegal party. Her godmother bails her out and hires her as a library clerk to make up the money, but doubts her ability and disapproves of her friends (which includes Guillermo Diaz as Leo, an aspiring DJ). Can Mary grow up? It's a rad look at '90s club culture in New York (cameo by Lady Bunny, hello!), fashion, and also saucily funny. Can I have a falafel with hot sauce, a side order of Baba Ghanoush and a seltzer, please?

 The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
I actually saw The Royal Tenenbaums in theatres when it came out and I was struck by its dry humor and gorgeous cinematography. The film tells the tale of Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), a broke, disbarred lawyer estranged from his family--an archaeologist wife from whom he is separated (Angelica Huston) and three former-prodigy children (Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller and Luke Wilson)--who re-enters their lives only to tell them he's terminally ill (when the whole time we know he's not, and we get to enjoy visuals like seeing him eat a fast-food cheeseburger while hooked up to faux medical equipment). Another that's easily in the top 5 of my favorite movies of all time.

City Island (2009)
City Island is a comedy of errors that takes place on the eponymous island in the Bronx. In it we learn about the Rizzo family who, over a few weeks' time, don't share some major life events with each other and subsequently become embroiled in each other's drama without knowing it when an ex-con is invited to stay in their home. Andy Garcia is the family patriarch, Vince, and Juliana Margulies is his wife, Joyce. It won the Tribeca Film Festival Audience Award in 2009.

And that's what I got! What are some of your favorite New York movies?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Top Great Moments I Didn't Write About But Should Have: 2014 Edition

For whatever reason, there are some great moments that slip through the cracks every year--ones that didn't get their due being chronicled as really rad experiences. As I do every year, here are some of the great moments of 2014 that didn't make it to the blog during the year, so I'm kicking off this new year with them! For previous incarnations of this list, please see the 2013 and 2012 editions. Happy new year, folks! May 2015 bring you only success, health, and happiness.

Ghoster's Paradise
So technically this is a 2013 event, but it was released in 2014 so I'm counting it! "Ghoster's Paradise," (watch below!) written by inimitable comedy writer Hannah VanderPoel and directed by Michael Schwartz is, as perhaps you can tell, a parody video of Coolio's 1995 classic "Gangster's Paradise."It was written to hilariously call attention to and publicly shame the infinite men (and women!) all over this fine nation of ours who have resorted to "ghosting," or repeatedly telling someone you're interested and then disappearing without having the guts to say you're just not into them. Hannah is a friend of RaGo and I, and back in 2013 she asked us and a bunch of other rad ladies to take part in the video as members of a badass lady gang. On a Sunday afternoon in October 2013, we put on our finest attempts at faux hip-hop inspired apparel and stomped all over a rooftop in Bushwick. When the video was released in March 2014, it went viral, getting picked up by the likes of The Huffington Post and Glamour. I even had people I hadn't spoken to in years writing to me saying how much they loved it and how (sadly!) accurate it was. I didn't write about it that October because I wanted to wait until it was released, but it turns out I was preoccupied at that time as well. So I just did! It was a truly rad experience to be a part of, so thank you so much Hannah for that!

Women's Herstory Exhibition
I met photographer Elaine Hargrove when I was working with an arts collaborative awhile ago. I was instantly taken with her colorful documentary and portraiture work, which I wrote about on my blog. She loved the piece and sent me a photograph of hers to say thank you, and I now proudly display it in my house. When she was assembling a women's only photography exhibition earlier this year, she was kind enough to include me, too. Held at Freecandy in Brooklyn, the exhibition was called the "Women's Herstory Exhibition," in honor of women's history month and featured a variety of performance art throughout the evening alongside the gallery exhibition. SO many people came out to the event, and it was an honor to be included in such a rad collection of ladies.

My work at the Herstory exhibition.
Photo by Elaine Hargrove.

Restaurants: Adrienne's Pizzabar (Financial District) and Fish (West Village)
My freshman year of college cured me from ever really seeking out a slice of pizza for enjoyment--pizza is everywhere when you're in college, and it really took the novelty out of the food for me, to the extent that I hardly ever eat it now. But on a Saturday evening after a concert at the South Street Seaport, HanOre and I were hungry. She recommended Adrienne's Pizzabar, maybe a 15-20 minute walk away on one of the Financial District's historic cobblestone streets. I was nervous we'd be swarmed by de-suited finance guys on the prowl, but I trusted her judgment. The bistro-style atmosphere, complete with candlelight and a long wooden cocktail bar, was not what I expected in a place to get a slice, but I'd soon find out none of that mattered. We shared a grilled chicken and mushroom pizza (they don't do slices), and I swear on my red heels it was the absolute best pizza I've ever had in my life. If I had known pizza could have tasted like this, I would have been eating it as often as humanly possible. I can still taste it as I write this some six months later. When can we go back?

Fish is actually a restaurant Maw Manhattan found before she and Paw Manhattan came to visit in September. My parents are not picky eaters, per se, but they just don't like a complicated menu--any kind of food that would require the suffix "infusion," for example. Finding restaurants to take them to is often nervewracking for me--it takes a long time and I really hate disappointing them when they've traveled so far to have a nice meal. In September I reached the end of my rope, and I said, okay, it's your turn to find something! And Fish it was. Fish is, of course, a seafood restaurant, and it's super low-key, with waiters wearing t-shirts and a funky, grungy atmosphere. It was a fun, welcome change from another place where I have to wear heels to dinner. The food was both affordable and delicious--lobster bisque served in a mug, lobster mac and cheese, lobster pot mouth is watering just thinking about it. Everything each of us ordered that night was absolutely delicious, and I highly recommend it.

In August, I had the privilege of working on a story out in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. TL and I traveled out to the city, his hometown, together. Though the story itself ended up taking a different direction while we were there, in the meantime I got to see his favorite spots all over the city and experience this place that was so important to my friend. Lancaster is not just Amish country. It's small but vibrant, an almost-startling mix between a funky city like Austin--bursting with galleries and music venues all in a small radius-- and lush, green farmland. Not to mention, it's wonderfully, wildly inexpensive (beers for $1.75, glasses of milk for 50 cents at the Farmer's Market, 40 cent wings). I saw beautiful, candy-colored sunsets, I sat in a backyard overlooking someone's farm in the cool summer breeze, I got stuck in traffic behind an Amish buggy. It was easily my favorite trip this year, if not one of my favorite experiences the entire year. I have been working on an essay about my trip there since I left, pretty much, and hopefully one day it'll be good enough to match the memory of my trip there. Infinite thanks to TL for dragging me around, helping me with this story, putting me up in his home, and sharing his city with me.

Apple Picking
HVP's birthday wish was for a bunch of friends to go apple picking in upstate New York, preferably wearing flannel attire if possible. So we went, flannel and all! On a late September morning, we piled into a van and drove two hours north to Warwick, NY, where there's an apple orchard. To get there, we passed by tons of brightly colored leaves in the midst of changing. Sometimes in New York, whe you're pounding the pavement, you forget completely about seeing the changing seasons, so it was nice to see. There were tons of people at the orchard--apparently this is a popular activity?--and we poked through the trees to get our haul. Not before sampling the orchard's wines and ciders and partaking in a barbeque lunch, of course! The trip was lovely not only for the activity itself but for HVP's lovely friends who made me laugh the entire way, RaGo and her Britney Spears solo sing-alongs included.

There had been an email chain going for months about what we would do for Halloween. For just as long, I had been preparing my costume, to be Andy Warhol's "Gold Marilyn Monroe" from 1962. I was determined to go out and get it seen, too! We wound up at SA's place in Jersey City, which is a lot less far from Manhattan than I originally anticipated--it's more like the sixth borough in that it took me about as long to get there as it does to get to Brooklyn. I will fully admit, I was not sold on the idea of "Jerseyween," as it became known, when our email chain first started. "Ughhhhhhh whyyyyyy do we have to leave the staaaaaaaate???" I found myself thinking as messages progressed toward a New Jersey evening. But it was lovely! Downtown Jersey City is kind of homey and approachable in the way that the tall glass buildings in Manhattan and the hipsterfied streets in Brooklyn can't be. We got into costume--me as Warhol's Marilyn, alongside Dr. Who, a Vulcan from Star Trek, and living incarnations of Firefox and Internet Explorer--and headed over to meet up with some other friends--Bob Ross and his Happy Tree-- for probably the most candy and junk food I've eaten on Halloween since I was in elementary school. We made our way after that to a Barcade location close by. After a number of photos and drinks there, we came back to SA's to de-makeup and fall asleep while watching Shaun of the Dead. It was easily the best Halloween I've had since coming to New York.

How'd I do, guys?

I was fortunate enough to receive two tickets to see Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a hilarious drag ballet company (yes, that means men in drag on pointe shoes!) and HanOre came with me. The Trocks, as they're known have been in existence for 40 years, with rotating cast of dancers who have impeccable ballet backgrounds and, of course, comedic timing. HanOre and I decided to make a gal's night of it, starting with a trip to La Maison du Croque Monsieur on University Place. La Maison is located in the building that was once home to writer Anaïs Nin, and each sandwich on the menu is named for one of her lovers (Hugh, Otto, Eduardo, Antonin, etc...). Post-Trocks, wound our way to the fabulous Beatrice Inn, whose dark wooden bar and white tiled walls are below street level. We sat near the fireplace drinking martinis. Then another of HanOre's tried-and-true college bars and, followed it with a late-night snack at the wonderful Pommes Frites in the East Village. I love the feeling of a full evening, falling into a cab on the way home knowing you had a fantastic night.

And now on to 2015, kittens!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Romy and Michele Go To a Holiday Party

It felt like Fifth Avenue in the height of tourist season. Throngs of people milling about so closely packed together that my red heels consistently nicked the legs of the people around me. I did my best to walk in the space like a fairly regular human being with some semblance of fine motor skills, but occasionally failed.

I was given two free tickets to a holiday party uptown, billed as one for "young professionals." I didn't really know what this meant, save for the fact the party would probably filled with people who were approximately my age and that there would be an open bar. I have seen several parties advertised this way around New York, but have never actually gone to one before.

I brought as my partner in crime my fearless partygoer RaGo, and together we milled about the space, she dressed like a punk nun in a black velvet dress with studs at the neck and wrist, and I like a 1930s bohemian entertaining at home, sheer red draping top and matching heels with wide-legged grey trousers in the middle. If you know either of us, this is par for the course--we are, not to toot our own horns, creatively minded individuals, people who love not only to develop original work (RaGo once wrote a tale from her youth entitled "My Genderqueer Rabbit" which I sincerely hope she publishes one day) but appreciate it. I like to think this is regularly reflected in our attire.

And everyone else there was wearing black. Black cocktail dresses with black leggings or tights and riding boots. And the women snarl at the servers, asking them for specific appetizers from the giant tray of all the same appetizer, as if somehow some are actually better than others and they simply must have the best ones. The men stand in the background, button-up shirts and contrasting ties, putting up with the women, not being at all too particular themselves about the appetizers.

Shortly, RaGo and I understand where we are--we are at the holiday party equivalent of a singles' weekend and, save for the open bar, we almost instantly lose interest. That is, until the very rad DJ served up the newish, posthumously released Michael Jackson-Justin Timberlake collaboration, "Love Never Felt So Good."

"I love this song!" RaGo says, as we perch on the wooden stage, sipping our vodka sodas.
"Do you want to dance with me?" I say.
She hesitates, but eventually answers in the affirmative.
"Yeah. Whatever, let's Romy and Michele this place."

It's the perfect reference for what we are about to do, this reference to the utterly classic 1997 film "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion," in which two utterly clueless former high school outcasts  and best friends return home for, well, their high school reunion. Multiple times in the film--at their prom, at a club, at the reunion-- they don't have anyone to dance with, so they dance with each other, the only other person either of them has ever really needed.

So RaGo and I get up and dance. Encouraged by our movement at this otherwise dead party, the DJ spins dance track after dance track and soon we have easily been dancing non-stop for 30 minutes. And after said time, we are still the only people dancing. He loves us, smiling and winking and clapping at us and offering us cocktail napkins when we get very sweaty. We inspire a few people to move around, but they stop after one or two songs and it continues to be really only us twirling around the space throughout the entire evening. I feel people staring at us and I couldn't care less. Yes, watch away! Look at what your life is missing! Not me, per se, but the dancing! Why aren't you dancing?!

I decide I am a filter now. That anyone I would possibly want to talk to at this party would be a person who actually had the guts to start dancing with me. So far, and wonderfully so, the only person is RaGo. After each song begins, we say, "Just one more then we'll go have another drink," but the songs are so good we just keep dancing.

Eventually, vodka sodas call to us and we sit down and take a break. A girl comes over to us who has lost her friends. "Wow!" she says. "You guys look like you're having so much fun dancing! I wish I could do that!" She is, unsurprisingly, also wearing all black.

And I just think to myself, uh, why couldn't you, able-bodied individual? And then I remember the uptightness and homogeneity of the crowd and I understand. These people aren't like us. They have no bone of Romy and Michele in their bodies. They don't understand what we're doing.

We chat with her briefly--RaGo is pleasant but I become disinterested almost immediately. One of my worst qualities is that I have zero tolerance for lack of imagination. But, mercifully, we are granted a reprieve from this person's thoughtless drivel ("So have you met any guys here?" she asks us before asking us what we do, or even our names. Seriously?) when the DJ starts playing Britney Spears's "Work Bitch." To call RaGo a Britney fan would be a disarming understatement and she immediately throws up her hands and squeals with the delight. The DJ sees and laughs uproariously but appreciatively. In an instant we are up and dancing and this other girl disappears. We vogue and pose and shimmy to Britney; RaGo's arms are up in the air, trance-like and twirling, as if summoning all the goddesses of the universe toward her. She is the best thing at this party, and the only reason I'm happy I'm here, open bar or not.

Shortly, we are sweaty again and we sit down to take advantage of the bar once more. A man tries to talk to me by asking me about my family heritage--nosy, impertinent questions like, What tribe does your family belong to? What's your family name? Where is your mother from?--as if he's looking to buy a show dog from a breeder, holding me up to the light to see if my whiskers are growing in the right direction before making his purchase.

It takes everything in me not to wrinkle my brow at him, roll my eyes, and say "Who the hell are you, guy??" Surprisingly, I hold it together and soon the party is over. Not without a glass of chocolate liqueur over ice, which RaGo and I share.

In line for our coats, I meet a funny, intelligent man who feels similar befuddlement at my nosy gentleman story. "What, like he expected you to know the exact shtetl where they lived?" he laughs. At least someone understands. He's kind, holding my bag while I reach for my coat, helping me put it on. At least not everyone here is looking for a show dog. We trade phone numbers.

RaGo and I laugh our way out of the party, recounting our adventures and misadventures--the DJ, dancing, watching the women pick out appetizers, that really good chocolate liquer. We stop into an Italian restaurant and stuff our faces with pasta and bread and olive oil, hungry after not having been able to push past those women at the appetizer bar all evening. At a party where I could have easily been overwhelmed by not only the sheer number of people but the sad lack of originality in all of them, my dear friend RaGo was pure perfection.

"I'm so glad you were there," I say again as we cram the last bites of linguine into our mouths. "I don't know what I would have done without you!" I cannot say it enough.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Window Shopping IV

Maybe it's because I don't celebrate Christmas, but it never feels like "the holidays" to me now unless I go see those famed holiday windows at Bergdorf Goodman. I've only missed one year so far (see my other entries from 2010, 2011 and 2013), and I have to say, now I know for sure it's just not the season until I stand on the corner of 58th Street and 5th Avenue with my hands and nose burning from the cold, waiting patiently for that single tourist to move out of the way so I can take a picture. And I really mean that, and with love, too. Once I've captured the department store's windows in all their glory, I know my trip home for the holidays isn't far off, so I don't mind the process at all.

In the swirl of Friday night traffic (foot and vehicle), I took my pictures of this season's windows, all themed in "The Arts" category. There were windows dedicated to each facet of the field--music, dance, film, painting, sculpture, photography, gastronomy, cartography, calligraphy, architecture, theatre and literature. As it is every year, it's an utter visual joy to see how the Bergdorf's staff interprets each of these subjects into a single window, the glamorous gowns and intricate details that go into all of them, be they cross-stitched portraits of myriad authors (the Literature window), to scads of paintbrushes, easels, and palettes all covered in white paint (Painting), to a glory of bright, shiny silver tubas behind a raven-haired mannequin clad in a nude, crystal-studded jumpsuit (Music), and an explosion of neon lights that were all handmade specifically for the window (Theatre). I'm not a fickle person by any means, but it seems like every year is my new favorite year of windows.

In an interview on Bergdorf's blog, 58th and 5th, window designer David Hoey said of this year's constructions that "the entire set of windows would constitute a sort of eight-lesson course in art appreciation." Hoey also said the entire Literature window was made from needlepoint, soft sculpture and fabric, while the architecture window was only composed of paper and old blueprints. In reality, the entire design of the windows themselves is an art form, one I feel privileged to have seen and photographed for so many years. Take a look below at my photos from this year's windows extravaganza at Bergdorf Goodman, "The Arts." You can click to enlarge.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Morning Gloryville

It was an odd experience to find myself on a train at 7:45am on Wednesday headed to a rave.

Normally I'd guess the experience would be the opposite, that one is heading home from a rave at such an hour. And this probably wouldn't happen on a Wednesday, right?

But there's a new sort of party happening in New York, held by a few different organizations, that of the morning rave. Usually a rave might conjure visions of people in all variety of neon attire dancing, maybe on all variety of drugs, floating like glow-in-the-dark stars through an abandoned factory alongside pulsating, electronic, bass-dropping deep house music. A morning rave is like that but, of course in the daytime and involves smoothies instead of drugs, coffee where there might usually be alcohol, as well as massages and yoga, all before 10am. (Please forgive the photos, they're from my iPhone.)

One such party is Morning Gloryville, which has now launched in 15 cities across the globe. Conceived by events producer Samantha Moyo and bodywork therapist Nico Thoemmes in 2013, the event asks dancers to show up sober, and invites you to "rave your way into the day," to get some exercise in a way that's far more fun and funky than heading to the gym. It's meant to be a positive and uplifting experience, one to challenge "traditional morning culture," where getting up is thought of as The Worst Thing Ever.

I always work up a great sweat when I go dancing at night, so why not give it a shot during the day? It was interesting--even though getting out of bed at the ungodly hour of 7am (sorry, traditional-work-hours folks, it's freelancer's life and everything's relative!) usually makes me groan "WHY AM I DOING THIS?!?" this past Wednesday morning I didn't do that. I had been excited to go to to Morning Gloryville for a few days, and that excitement got me out of bed pretty easily.

Requested to "dress to sweat," I put on my usual exercise clothes--a tank top and black pants, sneakers--and made my way down to the Judson Church. While the Judson is also definitely a church, it is more often than not a secular performance space used by all manner of arts groups, from modern dance to theatre, music, and much more. I heard Morning Gloryville before I saw it. Tell-tale "nst nst" beats flowed from the church onto Washington Square South and let me know I was in the right direction. One sign pointed me toward yoga also offered by the events, but I knew I was just going to be there for the dancing. After checking in at the press table (thanks for having me, Annie!), I went to make my way inside, only to be welcomed by a girl dressed as a bumblebee giving me a great big hug. "Welcome to Morning Gloryville!" she said as her glitter-covered eyes sparkled and her yellow wings shook behind her. Unaccustomed to being hugged before entering a party, I was a little bewildered but appreciated such a kind, unusual gesture.

Entering, I saw an endless row of coats, that promised table offering free coffee, a smoothie bar, and a water bar. There were all kinds of people inside, too--young people who were easily NYU students in workout attire similar to mine; women in baggy, patterned pants and crop tops wearing combat boots and crystals around their necks; a pale man with a single dreadlock tickling his neck; a ginger bloke wearing red long underwear, complete with butt flap; girls in metallic, patterned leggings wearing short crayon-colored wigs; another, muscular man wearing a camouflage mesh tank top and some of the tiniest shorts I have ever seen; a girl wearing a bathing suit over her leggings, and much more, all alongside a shirtless, hairy older gentleman--and everyone was dancing like apocalypse was coming. Hearts full of good vibes, they swayed and twirled and turned and did fancy things with their feet (because, of course, House is not just a style of music, but a way to dance). Some people even did capoeira and ballet because whatever rubs your Buddha, right?

While I normally don't dance to house, I danced with an open mind to every bass drop and "nst nst," I twirled and bounced and swirled with the best of them. Every so often the very energetic and positive emcees would come on the mike and offer a few words to get everyone's good vibrations flowing (and to remind them to hydrate! I found both particularly helpful). I think my favorite was, "When you dance more, you smile more, and when you smile more, you think less." I often feel like I think too much, but even I felt my brain turn off for a little bit and inhale some of those good vibes everyone was so intent on ingesting. There was something very "California" about it all to me--just let go, man! Push the bad energy out and invite the good energy in!--that sort of often-parodied earthy-crunchiness was alive and well here without any sense of irony. And I appreciated it! It was nice to see that people really believed in the positive atmosphere, and that made it an even more positive space to be in, even for an occasionally skeptical New Yorker like me.

If you're into House, you think you'd like a morning workout in the form of a funky dance party, and you dig some good vibes, I highly recommend Morning Gloryville. Many thanks to MG's New York producer Annie Fabricant for having me! Check out the New York chapter here, and get your "nst nst" on.