Last night I was in Toronto because I went to see "Tristan und Isolde," by Richard Wagner, directed by Peter Sellars. I slept in the Royal York Hotel where I was gratified to see, in the vast and sumptuous main hall, pictured above, portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.
These are not exactly the portraits but we are talking something like this.
When I say I slept in the Royal York I mean I really slept.
I almost did not wake up!
The opera went really late. It did not end until midnight and I was writing something up for the paper after that. I decided to allow myself time to sleep. I set the alarm for about nine.
Then I initially had trouble sleeping because I was wired about "Tristan und Isolde." That is not an opera you see and then go home and go easily asleep. So I lay there thinking about things. The room was really quiet and there was this big soft duvet. I lay under this duvet and I thought about the opera. I thought about Tristan and Isolde and King Mark. I wondered if Leonard Pennario had ever stayed at the Royal York. Perhaps for that memorable night at Massey Hall, he did!
Here is a portrait of me in my royal suite at the Royal York.
Eventually I went to sleep. Because next thing you know the alarm was going off!
And the room was pitch dark!
I was so disoriented that at first I could not figure out how to shut off the alarm. Where was I? What was I doing here? Why was this alarm going off in the middle of the night?
Then I figured things out: I was at the Royal York, and it was past 9 a.m.
There was this window right next to my bed and there were heavy curtains and behind the curtains was this shade and it was pulled tightly all the way down. That was why it was so dark! I was amazed -- and admiring. It really shuts out anything!
My brother George revealed yesterday that he had heard the call of the chickadee, pictured above.
I did not hear it! I must have been listening to one of my Pennario records. We are a little ahead of schedule with the chickadee this year. Usually it does not make itself heard until the middle of February.
My little niece Barbara heard the chickadee too. To prove it she competently imitated the chickadee's song.
But here is what puzzled me. George said the chickadee did not count because it was on the coldest day that he heard it.
He thinks that if you hear the chickadee when it is zero degrees, it does not count!
Yikes, today -- besides being Mozart's birthday -- is Septuagesima Sunday. That means we are in the pre-Lenten season! Which, Mozart would have known that. But me, I did not.
Above is a picture of me leaving St. Anthony of Padua Church weighed down by the awareness that Lent is upon us. Last year, Septuagesima Sunday also sneaked up on me.
I remember I first heard of Septuagesima Sunday when I was in California with Pennario. I was going to my first Tridentine Masses and a lot was new to me. Septuagesima means you are counting down until Easter. It means that there are 70 days, more or less, until Easter. Leonard helped explain that to me.
On the bright side ... I am sure the word Lent is related to Lenz, which is archaic German for spring. So as of now we can think spring, should we so desire. I do not always desire. Just yesterday I was thinking I love the flavors of winter: cinnamon and cloves and cranberries. Plus I have pumpkins still to eat.
Were I to want spring, though, I would be cheered by signs I have been noticing. The daffodils have been up for weeks! In a holding pattern, but up.
Just this morning I found myself listening for the call of the chickadee, just in case. I did not hear the chickadee. But I will hear it any day now.
Last night I sat around for a while watching "Doctor Zhivago" with my mom. All of a sudden I am seeing all these movies. I have not watched so many movies since my days with Leonard Pennario!
It was a great night to see "Doctor Zhivago" seeing that we are under this deep freeze.
I like "Zhivago." I have the vinyl record. There are tons of copies kicking around Goodwill and garage sales so it must have been a massive seller back in the day.
I love how Julie Christie has 1960s makeup. Also, how Lara shoots that mean Mr. Kamarovsky.
But the character I really admire is Tanya, the Geraldine Chaplin character. Speaking of it being Geraldine Chaplin, it is kind of distracting how she looks like her father.
She is the nicest person in the movie. She is positive and humorous even under the worst circumstances, when the Russian Revolution has hit and they are on this terribly crowded train with her old father in tow, going to Siberia, I mean, God knows where. Things are bad!
And she still keeps smiling and joking and looking out for everyone and keeping everyone's spirits up.
She is calm in the cold.
Then she gets cheated on and she is still sweet and cheerful. No one like that should be cheated on but such is the world in which we live. Zhivago should not have written the Lara poems, you know? He should have written the Tanya poems. She is the superior woman!
And she dresses well, too.
I should put together an outfit like that and wear it to work tomorrow.
I braved those aggressive customers and those carts clattering over the cobblestones only to stand bereft in the fancy tea aisle. At Wegmans they do not keep this Celestial Seasonings tea in the normal tea aisle. They are in the fancy tea section, back by the deli.
I had to mail order this tea!
I have never done this in my life, mail ordered anything you eat or drink. Sometimes you see it in cooking magazines. They will tell you to mail order something. And I always laughed at that.
So... what I did, I ordered a six-pack of Sugar Plum Spice. That was the tea that turned out to be my favorite, after I bought it reluctantly thinking I probably would not like it.
And a two-pack of the Candy Cane Lane peppermint green tea. That was another tea I bought reluctantly because I could not find the kind without the green tea. Now I find I cannot live without it. Hmmm, looking at the picture above, I realize I never got to try Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride. That is probably great too!
Anyway, my bill came to $21 including shipping which is not a small price to avoid a nervous breakdown.
What is it with these crazy hippies over at Celestial Seasonings? Why do they bring out the good stuff only at Christmas? When I was looking for this tea the other day I saw all their other stuff, Red Zinger, True Blueberry, Morning Thunder, etc. Who drinks this stuff? Does anyone know anyone who knows anyone who drinks Red Zinger?
I find myself rationing my Sugar Plum Spice until my shipment arrives. As I work to complete my Pennario project I am thinking I will have to thank it in the acknowledgments.
It was less successful than the last because the kids were tired and snotty -- that is a word Pennario loved, snotty -- and the movie was more for the grown-ups, I am afraid. The movie was "Dr. Dolittle," the 1967 musical with Rex Harrison.
Looking up the movie I see it is almost universally reviled. Everyone seems to have hated it, right from the get-go! And I guess our kids were not nuts about it either.
Little Georgie, in particular, was restless and nostalgic for "Peter Pan." He asked if Samantha Eggar was a real woman or really a boy, apparently thinking of Mary Martin's gender-bending act. Then he started chanting: "Captain Hook! Captain Hook! Captain Hook!" probably hoping Hook would pop out from behind one of Dr. Dolittle's chimps.
But I liked "Dolittle." And that's what's important.
Movie Night is really for grown-ups. The kids are just allowed to be there.
I thought the songs were lovely. Leslie Bricusse wrote them. I thought Rex Harrison was funny. It is fascinating to read, by the way, that he was an arrogant pain during filming. You would never have guessed that.
The talking-to-the-animals bit is a riot. They are on this ramshackle boat and Dr. Dolittle goes, "One of the ship's rats came to see me last night. He said that according to old custom he might have to abandon ship."
"One of the ship's rats came to see me last night." Hahahahaaa!
Speaking of the rats abandoning ship, I understand this movie went way over budget and was a disaster for whatever studio made it, I forget. It lost money.
Still funny, say I. It is priceless just to see the spectacle of a horse walking into Dr. Dolittle's Victorian living room and being fitted for glasses. (Speaking of spectacles.)
You get to see Richard Attenborough running around singing and dancing. And you get to hear Anthony Newley sing "My Friend the Doctor."
Anthony Newley wears plaid pants. My mother and I kept laughing about that.
Last night I tried watching "Bridget Jones' Diary" with my mom.
Note to self: Do not try that again!
Isn't that what Bridget Jones always wrote to herself, "Note to self"? I never read the book but I looked into it in the library once, just read a couple of pages. It looked hysterical. But it did not strike me as the kind of thing I wanted to read page after page after page and so I did not borrow it.
Did I see the movie? I could not remember. Not that I thought about it much last night. I had not slept much the night before and I think my judgment was deserting me. Last night all I thought was, it had Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, two actors my mom loves.
If Hugh Grant and Colin Firth are in a movie how bad can it be, you know?
Answer: Pretty bad!
There were "F" words in every sentence! There were unbelievable bawdy jokes. There was tons of sex. That whole movie, it was like this big mud puddle. I mean, maybe with your friends it would be funny but with your mom, au contraire.
Into my mind flashed this quote from "Downton Abbey" that was floating around Facebook. My friend Bing from church posted it.
But this, ahem, vulgarity. How do you get away from it?
A few months ago or whenever, I looked up "Fifty Shades of Grey" to see what it was about. I honestly had no idea, I just kept hearing mention of this book and I was wondering. And when I found out, I just thought, oh, of course. Couldn't I have figured that out? You can pretty much assume, you know?
Either things are about sex or they are about vampires! Or both. And that makes finding movies for your mom all the more difficult. This is funny, I remember discussing this situation with Leonard Pennario, this situation about my mom and movies. It is a problem I have had forever!
Anyway, back to last night. It ended badly, is all I will say.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I am putting a new rule in place when it comes to movies with my mom.
Tonight I made Pork Yakitori just because I like that name, Yakitori. Above is a picture of me cooking it!
It was supposed to be Chicken Yakitori but I had pork chops so I sliced them up and did that instead. It was funny because this morning, I happened to see this recipe, which was in the December issue of Cooking Light. Only I did not have snow peas. Why do these recipes always call for snow peas?
Then I went to my mom's and there were all these snow peas! Apparently my brother George had brought them over. Mom said we should swap, my romaine lettuce for her snow peas. Sold!
Hence the Yak ....
Other recipes I have made for their names:
Coq au Vin. There is something about that Q!
Beef Daube Provencal. That Daube is tremendous. Also you can make it in a Crock Pot. As you can Coq Au Vin, now that I think about it.
When you get into Asian, that is the best. I used to tease Pennario because he was squeamish about Indian foods and some Asian foods. It is a pity! You would miss out on
Dau Hu Xao Dau Hao
... which is sauteed tofu.
I will have to start thinking what I will make tomorrow.
We did Movie Night tonight at my mom's, for my little niece and nephew. It was a big success!
We showed "Peter Pan," the old version from 1960, I think it is, with Mary Martin. In attendance were my brother George, his two little ones, George Andrew and Barbara, and my mom.
Also in attendance was my corn popper. George said, "It's like 1982!" Which it was. But it was novel to everyone. My mom was gazing at it transfixed, and also looking on, with her arms around my mom, was our Barbara. And George Andrew was also there in the mix, gazing at the popcorn popping.
"Peter Pan" was an adventure. I had never seen it before and neither had George. So all of us were new to it even though we knew the songs.
Right away, when the movie started, I worried. The kids are not used to movies and they were restless and of course hooked right into that Peter Pan was played by a woman. Did I say hooked into? Listen to me!
I had to confront it and get it over with. I just said, "Yes, you know what, Peter Pan is always played by a woman. They need someone who is athletic and a great singer and dancer."
Then George said to the kids, "Get past it."
And we left it at that.
Secretly I was thinking: This is a disaster.
These kids are going to hate this! It is made for different kids from a different time. When Pennario was a household name, that is when this "Peter Pan" was a hit.
But then things got better.
It was funny, watching the magic of Mary Martin's performance take hold. Our George Andrew, who is 6 or something, he actually forgot he was watching a mature woman. When he looked at her he saw a little boy. And he is a little boy! God love Mary Martin, you know? That is a great artist, who can do that.
There is this one interlude when Peter Pan sings a lullaby that he remembers his mother singing to him before he came to Never Never Land. "Before he left home," Barbara said.
While Peter Pan was singing that lullaby, the Lost Boys were lying on their stomachs, the chins propped up on their hands, listening to him. And our George Andrew, no doubt without thinking, got down on the floor in the same position, looking up at the screen.
And Captain Hook, what a kick. George and I were laughing, who knows what old vaudevillian they got to play him. Whoever he was, he was tremendous. Later I learned he was Cyril Ritchard. I know nothing about actors, forgive me.
Here is Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard in the studio. It turns out that Hook was a Catholic who went to Mass every day, though there is no word on whether he went to confession once a week. When he died in the '70s, Archbishop Fulton Sheen said his Requiem Mass.
Here he is in action.
Cyril Ritchard also plays Wendy's dad, Mr. Darling. That is like in "Mary Poppins" when Dick van Dyke plays both Bert and Old Mr. Dawes. You get these goofy double-ups. I love that.
At my mom's it was fascinating to see the old software still work, as Howard would put it. To see the kids laughing at Hook and getting teary over Peter Pan and Wendy. Also we all loved the big fake dog, Nana.
"It was Nana's night off," the mother mentions at the beginning, setting the scene. The dog gets a night off! Hahahahahaa! So many of these jokes are lost on kids.
Then the movie had this weepy ending, though, when Peter Pan comes back to find Wendy and Wendy says: "Peter, I'm old. I'm a married woman!"
Peter starts crying. We all started crying. George and me and George Andrew and Barbara.
The only one who was not crying was my mother. She yelled at Peter Pan! She said: "Don't take it so hard!"
I was late getting down to St. Michael's because I went to Zumba and then went video shopping for my mom. But there were still 25 minutes of confessions left. I knelt in the pews for a minute. I put on my, ahem, chapel veil. This is weird and dorky but it has gotten to the point that I do not feel comfortable in church without something on my head. Then I got up and got in line.
And here my problems began.
The line moved too slowly. The priest in the box was taking his time. One guy was in there for, I want to say at least 15 minutes. The reason I can say that is, the woman in front of me recognized me and introduced herself and was asking me if I could do a story on this dance group she is in. I didn't mind, except I felt dorky in my veil -- but my point is, our conversation went on for some time and that is how I know that one guy was in the confessional FOREVER.
I began to worry about the time. There were still two people between me and the booth ...
... the woman from the dance group and this other stylish woman standing across the way, with a coat and a purse I coveted. Covetousness! Just standing in line I was racking up the sins!
The woman from the dance group went and she was also in there for a long time. Then the woman whose clothes I coveted got her turn. She was more in and out. It must be getting on 2 p.m., I worried. Well, surely the priest would not just leave. Surely he would wait a minute to make sure no one else was there.
Because darned if that door does not open and the priest does not step out. And without even glancing my way, he walked away! He was this old guy in a sweater and he looked as if he had just had it.
I was the only one left. I just stood there not knowing what to do, feeling disappointed and dismayed. It was not exactly this emergency situation but I had made this special trip.
Luckily this being Buffalo other people got involved. This woman across the church called out, "Father!" and finally got him to turn. She pointed at me.
He turns and frowns in my direction. I felt so stupid, standing there in my dorky veil.
"I'll be quick," I said. I said it as a kind of joke but the priest did not smile. He sort of sighed and went back into the booth and shut the door.
I went behind the blue curtain. And this was something I never thought of: It never crossed my mind that I would feel ashamed saying it was a week since my last confession. I wished I could lie and say it had been a year!
I got through it but I felt rushed and ridiculous. Because I am on this weekly regimen my sins sounded silly and unimpressive. There was no discussion about them. And then things got worse.
I was so jangled I forgot my Act of Contrition!
I started out fine ... "O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee..."
But I stopped when I got to "And I detest all my sins because of ..."
Because of what?
"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm blanking." I was hoping the priest would prompt me but he did not. I took it from the top. I got to the same spot and blanked again. Finally I sort of guessed. "Because of Thy just punishments," I said. Was that right? It did not sound right. How could I have screwed this up? It was like imagining Leonard Pennario screwing up a Chopin waltz. It just does not happen, you know?
I stumbled through the rest of the prayer. The priest gave me my penance -- four Our Fathers and four Hail Marys, by the way, my biggest penance yet, I must point out. Then he said he absolved me of all my sins, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and did I want fries with that.
Hahahaa... Sorry, I could not help that!
Long confession short, after that absolution I returned to my pew. The priest came out of the box and walked wordlessly away. I knew exactly where he was going.
Yikes, already it is time for me to go back to confession!!
Remember, two weeks ago, I was put on the once-a-week plan? I did go back last Saturday, when I was supposed to. Going to confession is always dramatic but it was a little less so when you have just been the week before. The priest does not sweat it with you so much. Which was good because last Saturday, unlike the Saturday before, there was a line. Maybe people had made New Year's resolutions to go back to confession! Or maybe people had done more sinning than usual over the holidays. Gluttony, sloth, all these sins come into play. Whatever the reason, I was in good company.
Oddly enough I was given more penance than had been demanded of me the week before. The week before, when I had been delinquent, all I got was a Hail Holy Queen. Even the dramatic time I went back to confession after years and years, the time I told Leonard Pennario about, all I got was one or two prayers, I forget.
Last Saturday I got three Our Fathers plus a Hail Holy Queen.
I wonder what I will get tomorrow!
I wonder if there is a science to this. If there is, surely it will emerge over the next year, or whatever. As I continue to go on my weekly basis, la la la la la la la.
There was one unique bit of drama, I have to say, to last Saturday's experience in the confessional.
That was being able to say: "My last confession was ... a week ago."
Son of a sea cook, when was the last time I was able to say that?
Before Christmastide is over I must needs run by Wegmans and pick up more Christmas tea. There was so much yummy tea out this year and I got hooked on it!
There is the Celestial Seasonings Gingerbread Spice that my mother loves. My mom puts sweetener and milk in it but I always just drink tea hippie style, plain.
Stash Tea had this line of Christmas teas that I absolutely could not resist. The best is "White Christmas," with white tea and mint and -- this is the kicker -- ginger.
Their green mint tea, Merry Mint, tastes kind of like toothpaste. But Celestial Seasonings gets the mint green tea right. This is the real reason I have to run back to Wegmans. There is this Candy Cane Lane only with green tea. This was a stroke of good fortune because I resisted buying it at first. I was looking for the normal Candy Cane Lane herb tea. I could not find it and that was why I bought the green tea. It is superior!
End result, as we say here in Buffalo: Boxes and boxes of tea!
Part of the problem is, you know me, I love packaging.
Look at that Sugar Plum Spice, lower left. It is delicious! You think it is going to be plummy but it is spicy instead. And what drew me in was that magenta packaging.
I love colors and pictures.
When my book on Leonard Pennario comes out, no matter what it is like on the inside, you had better believe it will have a fantastic cover!
Last night at my mom's the little niece and nephew were fighting as usual and suddenly things got better. Because suddenly little nephew George Andrew found a spider.
A spider was cool! And it would play with George Andrew.
After that I told them a story and I had their undivided attention.
"When Uncle Howard was a little boy, he had a lot of animals," I told them. "He had turtles, and fish, and he had a snake."
And all of a sudden George Andrew's face lights up like a light bulb.He is five and he loves that his uncle once had a snake. He senses a kindred spirit. Who cares about me and Leonard Pennario? The snake is what is over the top in this kid's mind.
"And Uncle Howard's pet snake lived in a tank," I said. "And one day, he noticed the snake was not in the tank any more. No one knew where it had gone!
"Then one night his parents were watching TV. And the snake came crawling out of the TV!"
What a great story this is!! It is no wonder that the kids are laughing and laughing, delighted.
"And Uncle Howard's mother yelled: 'Howard! Come and get your snake!'"
There was lots of laughter and more delight. And discussion as to what the snake was doing in the television. I said it was probably because the TV is warm.
It is funny because as Howard and I were talking about, children love disorder.
They thrill to the thought of a snake in the TV. That is how the world should be!
The final version of Howard at the doctor, pursuant to yesterday's post. Observe the cigar in his mouth, and our friend Doris Jones flaunting a stethoscope.
We are not sure what his headdress is but I think someone wrote something about him taking it off the head of the medicine man.
I keep being afraid my nose is going to start feeling funny in sympathy with Howard. He is worried that will happen too. We mirror each other sometimes in strange ways. Sometimes it is opposite! A couple of years ago -- yikes, now that I think about it, I think it was before Leonard Pennario -- I was on the South Beach Diet. The diet is really strict for the first two weeks and during that time, while I sweated it out, Howard began eating voraciously. It could not be helped! I had to give up alcohol, too. That was another thing. And so Howard began to drink. He got a Manhattan when we went to Jocko and I forget what else.
He did not do it to be mean! It was as if he could not help it. Even at the time I was laughing about it.
Some psychologist could probably explain this. Meanwhile ...
And this being a New Year in which I was going to up my Web logging, it being therapeutic and all.
At least I have been preoccupied with weighty matters. Howard had to go into Urgent Care yesterday for this nosebleed he has had off and on, mostly on, for the last week and a half. Leonard Pennario had a nosebleed too, by the way, at intermission during a recital he gave in Chicago about 50 years ago. So in a way this Urgent Care trip was research for my book.
I loved the doctor at Urgent Care because he used the word "schnozzolla."
To commemorate the event I took Howard's picture up above.
Then his friends got at it on Facebook.
First someone gave him a more formal face and gave him his customary tie.
At press time he looked like this!
HAHAHAAA! The pictures threatened Howard's newly fragile nose.
He wrote on Facebook, "Don't make me laugh or sneeze."
I always love when something Leonard Pennario happens and I had nothing to do with it. The best was when he got the brick in the Buffalo Cultural Walk of Fame and there was this big ceremony and I missed it because nobody told me. Pennario would have gotten a kick out of that.
He also would have loved that he got in along with Rick James!
I could not find a YouTube video of Pennario playing the "Grand Scherzo" but "The Union" up above is not bad music with which to begin your New Year.