26 February 2009

The Sights We Saw in Sarasota...

...now available on Flickr for all the world to see.

Just click here.

24 February 2009

Jazz and Post-Structuralism on Fat Tuesday

I live down the street from the Phoenix Piano Bar, a legend of a place in this city. But I haven't been there in ages, not since long before we moved in down the street. Tuesdays are open mic night and a friend was on the schedule to sing and Sergio was going to listen. I wanted to go, too, but I'm behind in my reading for class and maybe I should just stay home ... unless I could read there ... with a beer. It is Mardi Gras after all. So I went, with my articles in tow. And, in the glow of a deceptive, fake candle adorned with beads, I read Jane Tompkins' "A Short Course in Post-Structuralism" to the tune of a lot of live jazz.

Tompkins: "...the notion of the arbitrariness of the sign, of the unmotivated relationship between concept and sound image..."
hi-hat: tssss-t-ts-tssss-t-ts-tssss-t-ts...

The Phoenix is a quintessential place, flawless in its informality, refreshingly straightforward. The neon sign in the window glows "Jazz" - not the brand name of a beer. The musicians are lodged like permanent fixtures into the stage up front, held in place behind a bar, as if in a cartoon with impossible proportions. Is that a drum set back there? And a baby grand behind the bar?

Remarkably, the Phoenix shut down for a while last year. I hated to see it dark when I drove past on my way home. (Even though I never went, I just liked knowing it was there.) I'm so glad it's open again. Tonight it was not dark at all. And I am going to go more often.

The musicians who are there play all the parts for the ones who aren't so the sound is totally full and if you were reading instead of watching you'd think the band was much, much bigger than it really is and you might be distracted long enough to watch a little of one of your favorite songs.

vocalist: ...There'll be no one unless that someone is you ... I intend to be independently blue...
Derrida: "In every exposition it would be exposed to disappearing as disappearance. It would risk appearing: disappearing."

In my next life, perhaps I'll come back as a philosopher. Or maybe a jazz singer. In the meantime, I'm just somebody who is glad she lives on 8th street.

Good times on Fat Tuesday.

Phoenix Jazz Club on Urbanspoon

23 February 2009

KC Rep: The Arabian Nights

Mary Zimmerman is the reason we got season tickets to the KC Rep. Five years ago we happened upon free tickets to the Rep’s production of her play Metamorphoses and were so stunned. Craving more opportunities to be amazed, entertained, and edified, we signed up for season tickets and the Rep has provided pretty consistently since then. This season, when I heard that they were putting on another Zimmerman production, I was anxious to attend. And it did not disappoint.

Again presenting ancient texts with modern twists, Zimmerman’s The Arabian Nights is teeming with characters and stories. Every night, Scheherezade tells her trail of stories, captivating the King, her husband, so that he won’t kill her. Each tale within a tale within the big tale of the play itself compels everyone (the king and the audience) into the plot maze, and we hold on to the thread so that we can find our way back.

Along the way we are treated to a full spectrum of performance: drama, comedy, and improv; choreography, song, and dance; audience participation and stand-up; bawdy jokes and chilling political references. The set design – consisting simply of a full spread of carpets, low tables, and numerous luminous lamps hanging on both sides of the broken ‘fourth wall’ – lent itself to each and all of these.

If I had to choose, I might say that Metamorphoses was a slightly more memorable production. Which might be due to that giant pool they used in the middle of the set. But I don't want to have to choose, and I feel very moved by simplicity yet richness of The Arabian Nights. I feel just as moved as after that first Zimmerman production I saw. Both plays are powerfully lavish collections of tales that are timeless. Both reveal what Robert Trussel, writing for the Star, called "the sheer audacity" of Zimmerman's vision. And both left me wanting more.

21 February 2009

Ask Me About My Houseplants (a photo essay)

July 2008 - baby arrowhead vine, baby kalanchoe, baby airplane (or spider) plant, baby devil's ivy (l to r). These were cuttings from Scott and Lauren's plants in Chicago - they gave them to us in July when we visited and we brought them home on the airplane.

Except for the airplane plant which is from Mom and Dad and brought home by car. (We didn't do so hot with the airplane plant cutting from Scott and Lauren.) I potted these last summer with compost from Green Worm and used four identical pots precisely distanced on our window sill by my resident perfectionist.

January 2009 - Much bigger now; I finally had to trim the ivy and vine - they were long enough to wrap around their pots multiple times. Sergio, my resident perfectionist, began to cringe as the vines kept going and growing all over everything.

So I cut them into pieces and put them in water.

Right away the devil's ivy got to work on its new growth.
I was worried that the arrowhead vine wasn't doing the same. Until I finally noticed it was doing this ...

and when we got back from Florida it was well on its way.

The airplane plant is well on its way, too, looking for new depths and reaching for new heights.

I think I am going to need more identical pots precisely distanced on my window sill. And I might need some more window sill, too.

15 February 2009

Sightseeing in Sarasota

palm trees

We had all day on Valentine's Day to see the sights in Sarasota, after Chris and Mirna's wedding on Friday. At the Mote Aquarium we saw exotic fish - fish that didn't quite look like fish - fish with both eyes on one side of their body or with strange, ugly spines or with fins like manes. We hung out with sea turtles, watched the dolphins paint valentines, and peeked tentatively at the lengthly tentacles of the dead giant squid on display. When we left there we headed back over to St. Armand's Circle which was packed with people. Traffic moved slow and parking wasn't promising until by some Valentine's Day miracle we managed to squeeze our rented, plump Chevy Caliber into a spot only a block off the circle. The circle is where the Ferrari, Porsche, et. al. show was and so we spent the next little while looking at exotic cars - cars that didn't quite look like cars - cars with doors that open up instead of out, cars with engines in the back instead of the front, cars with unaccommodating shapes and unusual colors.

the sea turtles didn't seem feisty at all

features not available on our rental car

We left St. Armand's Circle and headed back over the water (so much water! so many palm trees! what a place, this strange "Florida") to get back to downtown where we grabbed a plenteous pasta lunch, with doppios for dessert, to tide us over until Valentine's Day dinner at Marina Jack where the food was good, all the women wore red, and the server was above average.

But before that delicious dinner, we did make it to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (Ringling as in Ringling Bros. and as in Ringling College of Art and Design) where we had just enough time to see the miniature circus - stunning in scope for how it effectively conveys with such small figurines just how vast an endeavor the circus was in its hey day - the larger circus exhibit, with actual fixtures, trailers, and signs - and the Ca' de Zan - the "House of John" (Ringling) which is an exquisite and unique Venetian mansion which has been sitting on the waterfront, replete with gorgeousness inside and out, since 1926.

miniature circus figurine

giant sign from the non-miniature circus exhibit

a statue at Ca' d' Zan, eccentrically aged

a banyan tree and me

at the back of the Ca' d' Zan

We had a pristine day of sightseeing together - a good way to spend the 14th day of February, which also happens to be Valentine's Day.

an exotic tree at the Ringling museum

14 February 2009

Chris & Mirna's Wedding

Our friends got married in Florida on Friday - Sergio and I were delighted not just to attend the wedding, but to be able to participate as well. Chris and Mirna asked us to officiate their ceremony for them, which we considered quite an honor.

The wedding was at a gorgeous mansion on the water front in Sarasota, the Crosley estate. The sun was shining, the weather was warm, and the place was gorgeous, both because of its own outstanding architectural merits and because of Chris and Mirna's exquisite and artistic tastes. Everything reflected the bride and groom so perfectly and underscored just how well-suited they are together. The wedding cake was a delicious creation by a friend from work and was decorated by Mirna herself whose beautiful illustrations came to life in fondant ... Chris' son Alex, who was the best man, played "Here Comes the Bride" on his guitar (and did so perfectly, I might add) while Mirna and her dad came down the aisle. Chris and Mirna's affection for each other and the importance of their loved ones was evident in the arrangement of the ceremony, in their sincere and original vows ... indeed, in the beautiful presentation of the entire evening.

These are the things that one loves to see in weddings. And one is especially glad when one can be a part of such a wedding as well.

09 February 2009

Spicy White Bean and Collard Soup

This is a favorite recipe from my Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker cookbook; the Spicy White Bean, Sweet Potato and Collard stew. It's the soup featured on the cover of the book, and while mine never looks exactly like that one, I'm certain it tastes just as good if not better.

I used some great northern beans from an undisclosed location (I have yet find any local beans, much to my dismay). For these I tried a new bean cooking method that our friends taught us which bypasses the soaking - it's a handy thing to do when pressed for time (although, I think I still prefer beans that have been soaked). You cook the beans in boiling water for five minutes, remove from heat - drain - rinse with cold water - and then return to boiling and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. It worked well, except my beans needed a full hour to move past al dente.

My sweet potatoes were local. They have been on stand by for a while. So patient, waiting in the wings. In fact, most everything else was local too ... I cracked open a giant quart of tomatoes (canned at the five-hour canning class I took in August). It was my first jar of tomatoes to open from that class and I was very pleased with how well they turned out. I used bell peppers frozen in a mason jar (bad idea - it was impossible to squeeze the air out when I packed them and it was impossible to remove only a few pieces to cook with. But I managed with some unseemly knife work).

I used a half portion from my zip-lock of collard greens from the big freeze in October (that would be the big indoor freeze, not an outdoor one). And in addition to broth from an undisclosed location, I used some veggie broth ice cubes and tomato juice ice cubes from the freezer (brilliant!).
I also used a bit of frozen jalapeño and - when that proved to be too mild - some dried red chilies from the farm which I added hastily towards the end. So hastily, in fact, that I got my fingers all spicy and then absent-mindedly scratched my nose and ended up with two burning red blotches on my face. Classic. FYI: the dried peppers DO retain their heat, unlike the frozen jalapeño. Apart from that mis-hap, the soup was a total success that fed me for a whole week.

Spicy White Bean and Sweet Potato Stew with Collards
from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker
serves 4-6

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 med yellow onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 fresh hot chile, seeded and minced
1 tps peeled and grated fresh ginger
one 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juices (or about two cups of your own canned tomatoes and juice!)
3 cups slow-cooked or two cans cannellini beans drained and rinsed (or great northern)
1 tsp light brown sugar or a natural sweetener (like local honey)
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cumin
2 bay leaves
3 cups vegetable stock
salt and pepper
2 cups chopped collard greens, cooked in simmering water until tender and drained

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic. Cover, and cook until softened, about five minutes.
2. Transfer the mixture to a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker (or a pot on the stove-top). Add the sweet potatoes, chile, ginger, tomatoes, beans, brown sugar, allspice, cumin, bay leaves, and stock; season with salt and pepper, cover and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours. (OR cook on the stove-top for 30 to 40 minutes.)
3. Close to serving time, stir in the cooked collard greens. Taste to adjust the seasonings, remove the bay leaves, and serve.

07 February 2009

City in Motion: A Modern Night at the Folly

Tonight, for the first time, I attended a modern dance performance. A friend, who was directing and performing in it, invited us to come. It was at the Folly Theater - a wonderful venue and the show was put on by City in Motion. The performances were unlike anything I’d ever seen, and yet they resonated with me.

The first one made me happy for reasons I couldn’t articulate. The second one made me sad for reasons I could explain. The third was a delightful, cartoon-like mating ritual between two members of a species that does not exist. That one was my favorite. Until the solo performance that involved a booth like a dressing room with retractable curtains - that was my other favorite. No wait: the one with eleven dancers all dressed in gray who moved together swiftly across the stage - like rain, Sergio said. That was my other favorite. No wait: the solo performance by the woman in white who stood at the very front edge of the stage and moved so slowly and deliberately. That was my other favorite. They were all so different - maybe that was my favorite thing of all.

There were things you don’t expect - pieces of cupcake flying across the stage, a blowout noisemaker featuring prominently in two performances, that booth like a dressing room. But the things you do expect were there in full force: beautiful shapes, expressive details, and impressive physical strength. Many things to be moved by. And at the end of each performance while the audience clapped and cheered, the dancers, so pliable, would bow and fold precisely in half in gratitude before vanishing from the stage.

06 February 2009

KC Rep: The Glass Menagerie

poster from The KC Rep's production of The Glass Menagerie featuring a unique interpretation of the story

I read this play. Once. A long time ago. In high school. But I don't remember it being quite so moving as what I experienced at the KC Repertory Theater’s production at the Copaken Stage downtown. The characters were so intense and the story so bleak. Only a few actors on stage and the emotional dynamics were palpable. I got teary at Laura standing at the phonograph and wailing in her one moment of noise. Tom running off to the movies every night is so pathetic; you don't blame him but you don't fully support him either. And their mother who pushes and pushes and pushes them away, even as she grasps for them so desperately. They all three seem to trap each other.

The production (very positively reviewed in the Wall Street Journal) had several key elements to savor: namely the videography. At some moments there were images (blue roses) and words (“I don’t suppose you remember at all, do you?”) projected onto the upturned ceiling and outturned wall of the set’s living room. At other times it was live close up footage of the actor at that very moment, staring into the mirror on the set or off to the side, staring right into the camera, their face writ large above where they stood. This externalized and made hard to ignore the emotional struggle inside the hearts and minds of those particular characters.

I particularly loved the image of the tiny glass figurine aglow in the bright candle light, filmed by a camera we couldn't see and projected onto the ceiling - the small glass unicorn shining bigger than anything in that sad little apartment. Shining so brightly you even think maybe it won't break this time.

01 February 2009

A Game and a Show in a Bookstore

Last night I met up with Sid and Deena for dinner at Blue Koi and a Barclay Martin Ensemble show at Prospero's Bookstore. After dinner and coffee & reading at Javanaut, we arrived at Prospero's early and Sid had a brilliant idea: a game. Let's split up, find a book that is of particular interest, and report back to one another to share what we found. Ready? Go!

20 minutes later, as the musicians were preparing to play and the crowd was gathering for the show, we shared what we found. Sid, continuing the lively dinner conversation on feminism, reported back with Mary Wollstonecraft's classic A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, originally published 1792. Wollstonecraft (the mother of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein) posed this question in the dedication: "Who made man the exclusive judge, if woman partake with him the gift of reason?" Deena had discovered Art Lover: A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim by Anton Gill, 2001, with a great photo of Peggy on the cover, staring out cheekily through her exceedingly funky sunglasses and hosting three fluffy dogs on her lap. The inside of the dust jacket reads "Mrs. Guggenheim, how many husbands have you had?" she was once asked. "D'you mean my own, or other people's?"

I cheated on the game and came back with two books. The first was Huxford's Old Book Value Guide: 25,000 Listings of Old Books with Current Values, 1997, which I chose for its ironic qualities. This Old Book Value Guide is simply a list of books (not all collectible, per se) and their values - everything from $12 to $150 and beyond. But by now this Old Book Value Guide is an old book itself and since all the data in it is old, it's lost its value. It is not a book that was meant to go up in value. The book cost $19.95 in 1997, though it was evidently purchased at Borders for $17.95. Now it is on a shelf in a used bookstore with a price tag of $7. And what's more: if you wanted to know the truly current values of old books now, you would look, not for a book, but for a website. Which makes you wonder about the value of old books.

My second book, which I picked up to keep entertained since the Old Book Value Guide was such dry reading, was The Perfumed Garden of the Shaykh Nefzawi, a middle eastern manual on sex, written in the 16th century, translated by Sir Richard Burton and published in 1964. It treats its subject matter practically and frankly; in its own way, it was quite dry as well and full of hilarious euphemisms. It made for interesting reading. In 1964, The Perfumed Garden cost $5 but is now valued at $7.50 at Prospero's. It is not, by the way, listed in the Old Book Value Guide.

The music started and we enjoyed the show, deciding afterwards that a used bookstore is, indeed, the perfect place to attend a concert; a used bookstore with creaking wooden floors, hammered tin ceiling, and one suspicious, wobbly stack of books that reached from that floor to that ceiling. The Barclay Martin Ensemble is wonderful anyway - they were even better surrounded by books.