"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

June 15, 2005

An Evening at Jazz Fest

This week, Rochester's seeing its share of hep cats. Some were blowin' tunes through a sax on a stage. Some were strummin' the bass line of a funk standard on a East Ave. sidewalk. Some were singin' their hearts out, and some were there to watch it all go down.


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This is Jazz Fest, baby.

So last Saturday, some of us jam-session-philes decided to head on downtown to catch the Cookers concert, what was to be a five-song set of one of the hottest performances of the festival. (Ms. Moxxie wore her red halter dress: she was ready to get down. She was cookin', too.)

After the concert, our group of six headed around the corner for some yummy Greek food, and then back to the festival for a gratuitous (and gratis) set by the seasoned Rochester Jazz Ensemble.

It appeared in our local paper (the Democrat and Chronicle) that Rochester's Jazz Fest is one of the best in the country, and this prestige after only four years' running. So: check your calendars for next June, folks.

Rochester's cooler than NOLA--and far less crowded.

June 09, 2005

The Cost of Riding Free in New Jersey

When you go to--or anywhere within--New Jersey, take a car.

Your own, that is.

Because if you do not bring your own car, you will find yourself at the mercy of alternative modes of transportation, ranging from buses to "taxis" (see below), and timetables whose patterns bear no logical nor memorable patterns.

Heath and I, having spent a great day in Manhattan, had been fortunate enough that night to find that the $6 Red and Tan Line Bus, which runs between Port Authority on 42nd and Montvale, NJ--where we were to enjoy Josh's and Anna's wedding, the next day-- was still running beyond 9 pm on a Saturday. Why take a bus that makes a 28-mile trip take over an hour to complete? Because the only alternative, apart from renting a car (way too expensive), was the only "taxi" service in the Woodcliff, NJ area--which was really a car service, and whose price to shuttle us between Manhattan and our hotel in NJ earlier had been $60 (although we'd been quoted $90).

A cheap ride, in New Jersey, therefore means that it will take one twice as long to get anywhere.

With this in mind, we had to find a way to get from our hotel in Montvale to the temple in Woodcliff Lake. A five-minute ride shouldn't have to take longer than 20 minutes. Nor should it cost the $20 we'd been quoted the night previous, from the driver who charged us exactly that for the ride between our bus stop and hotel (and yes, it was a five-minute ride).

Luckily, Sunday morning, we ran into Anna, the bride-to-be: poised, alert, and having just having had her hair exquisitely fashioned into a gorgeous up-do of ringlets. When she asked us if we had a ride to the temple, both Heath and I breathed a sigh of relief: Anna called over a couple we figured out were relatives (for their thick Russian accents and very Eastern European countenances). Immediately upon meeting them, however, we'd forgotten their names--we were just happy to have a free, appropriately short ride, and agreed to meet in the hotel lobby at 2:40--to arrive on time for the 3:00 wedding.

At 2:40, Heath and I were sitting on a lobby couch, watching wedding guests depart for their vehicles with their orange directions sheet firmly in hand. Some asked if we needed a ride, and we graciously declined each one.

Then it was 2:50.

At 2:55, the couple we came to call Boris and Natasha (there was no resemblance, only the very sexy, thick accents) walked casually into the lobby with another Russian couple. They'd apologized for running late, and were waiting for their friends to check out so the cars could go tandem to the temple--in case, of course, one car were to get lost.

Natasha must have seen the anxiety in my face, because she asked her husband to get the car and bring it around the front while we (all) waited for the check-out-ers.

I was getting ancey. I was to read a blessing during the ceremony, and all I could picture was a rabbi calling my name like that history teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Somewhere around 3:00, Boris rolled up: in a convertible. Nevermind that Heath was going to be crispy red from the strong afternoon sun, but I had just spent a good deal more time than normal fixing--and refixing--my hair. When the little red car pulled up, with Boris, decked out in black tuxedo shirt, black pants, maroon bowtie, and sunglasses, we knew we were in for adventure.

We squeezed ourselves, along with Boris's and Natasha's adolescent son (of a slightly healthy-boy build) into the back, and Boris mouthed the directions in Russian from the orange sheet, while Natasha explained that their air conditioning didn't work, and thus, the top had to stay down. Heath braced himself on the middle hump, hanging on to the seats in front of him.

I held on to my hair.

It didn't do much good. Locks broke loose, hairspray be damned, from all directions, and I was somewhere between annoyed, amused, and hysterical.

Then Boris and Natasha lit their cigarettes like two Riveiera elites.

Smoke, ashes, wind, sun, and the occassional tree matter: I dodged all of these while hanging on to my head. I looked like that Munch painting, but going 30 miles per hour in a red convertible. And in a dress. And in New Jersey.

When it occurred to all of us that we were horribly lost,it was 3:15, The other car had gone in a direction we thought was totally wrong, so we didn't bother to follow.

I'd let my hair tell our story, I figured. I decided to take my hands away from my head.

We went down one road. We turned around. We went down another. Boris and Natasha argued in fervent Russian while ashes from Boris's cigarette drooped in a beautiful arch onto his tux pants (he took no notice). I looked at Heath. He looked at me. We had to take the matter into our own hands.

Heath figured out some of the mistake in Boris's navigation, and we continued until we found other drivers who were willing to slow down and give us directions to the temple.

Finally on the right road, we knew we were to look on the left for the entrance to the temple; and just when Boris turned around to us to say something funny, he missed the damn turn.

"Stop talking and turn around!" I barked. I couldn't believe how rude I'd just been. I was certain I'd missed the wedding, that my friends who'd trusted me to read in the most important ceremony of their lives would no longer talk to me, and that the whole trip to NJ would have been in vain. As the car lumbered up the drive to the impressive shul, I asked if the couple wouldn't mind dropping us off before parking. They agreed it was best; my expression revealed more frustration than I'd wanted it to, but nevertheless, we were ready to get out of that car.

"Your hair looks okay," Heath reassured me. I was beyond caring, trying to find the words to apologize to Josh and Anna. But when we walked into the foyer, we noticed the multitude of hotel lodgers who'd passed us in the lobby earlier were sipping white wine, laughing, chatting, hugging and kissing, while a lively klezmer band played olde-world songs.

I found my friend Chuck and tapped him from behind. "Is it over?" I huffed, exasperated and sweaty. He didn't hear me. "Hey, Monica! You made it! We were just wondering if we should save you a seat inside."

So we were late: for cocktails. I could've used a strong glass of chablis, but reasoned it'd be best not to get tipsy right before going under the chuppah. I affized my hair in the ladies' room with some extra of the hairpins laid out for men's kippot.

(N.B., The ceremony was absolutely lovely; the reception, fabulous. And we danced the evening away to the sounds of a balalaika, to a variety of horas. While Heath and I supped at the wedding feast, we watched in awe as Boris and Natasha pranced, swayed, and seductively spun around each other to a variety of tangos. How relaxed, how elegant they look, I thought. And then it dawned on me: they had their own car.)

June 07, 2005

Taxicab, Horse & Carriage, Magic Carpet: or, I Love New York in June

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Manhattan women are famed for their sleek, concrete-like calves: they walk everywhere, and darling, they do it in heels.

This past weekend, though, the temperature and weather in Manhattan whisked us all into a delightful summer day, and somewhere around late afternoon, having strolled through Times Square and down the better part of Fifth Avenue, and having rested for a casual glass of Pinot Grigio at a sidestreet bistro, Heath and I were ready to put our very tired, hot feet up. (Heath hadn't worn socks. I was--darling-- wearing heels.) We weren't quite ready for dinner and the sun was glorious. Heath suggested--to my disbelief--a ride through Central Park. (Is there any doubting why I love this man?)

Central Park by buggy is pretty luxurious: you can't help feeling like a tourist, but oddly, there's no shame in lazing into the velvety cushion, leaning back, and watching the runners and rollerbladers, families and friends as you clip-clop past at a Victorian pace. The sun glimmered behind the skyline and through the trees, making patterns on our laps, and for a moment, New York seemed totally new again.

Horse ride over, it was time to hoof it over to W. 71st St., for dinner at Pasha, a Turkish restaurant Heath had looked into earlier. We'd arrived hungry, ready to sample exotic, Turkish delights--and sample we did. Two gratuitous appetizers (Mucver, Manti), two glasses of Turkish wine, an Etli Yaprak Sarmasi and a Hunkar Begendi later, we reclined again, in that happily-uncomfortable, satiated way, still reeling from the flavors that had enchanted our palates. The atmosphere: crimson walls, dimly lit tables, and Persian accents, made the already romantic dinner a carpet ride into another place. (Not ready to leave, I ordered a digestive Turkish coffee, and sipped into oblivion.)

Ah, for the love of the places you can go in twenty blocks: by foot, by hoof, by carpet! When the doors of our taxicab shut, we were on our way to Port Authority, to catch the bus to our hotel room in New Jersey (see next blog). We had no idea what sort of travel adventure was awaiting us. . .

June 01, 2005

Home is Where You Hang Your Sox Cap


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Originally uploaded by animox72.
For Memorial Day weekend, Heath and I decided--and maybe I nudged him a little towards this--to enjoy a getaway/visit to Boston.

I was thrilled to be his tourguide. I knew exactly where I wanted to take him: my favorite, secret, thinking spot in Boston Gardens; along Hanover Street to smell and taste little Italy; the majestic marble lions of the public library; to the harbor; to my old bohemian hangouts. And we did all of it.

But something happened while we walked down a very crowded Newbury Street on that sunny, warm, Saturday afternoon. We were laughing about something--we were both thirsty, and we'd passed some sidewalk art depicting Fenway Park that I'd admired and Heath had despised. I decided to buy it.

Heath emitted a growl and his eyes burned with disgust; the proprietor of the piece looked quizzically at me, as though I were buying it solely to torture him. "He's a Yankees fan," I admitted. The art seller looked at me, horrified. "And you're with him?" he asked me.

And then the words came out of my mouth:

"I'm from New York. We're from New York."

In this city I loved, left, and missed, I'd finally --finally--come to terms with my permanent home: Home. I'm a Western New Yorker. Someday, I'm sure, I'll discover the seduction of that phrase, but right now, it eludes me. (Of course, I'll always root for my BoSox.)

As we drove back west on I90, I turned to Heath: "I don't miss it anymore," I said. "It doesn't feel like home."

"Good," he said, and squeezed my hand. Both of us, I'm sure, were thinking about how my new Fenway piece would look next to his painting of Yankee Stadium.