Saturday, June 30, 2007

Cottage For Sale


June 30, 2007

As of next week, it will be official. The Captain's House will have a For Sale sign in front, be listed on the local MLS, and the traffic of looky-loo's will begin in earnest.

The 1,900-square-foot cottage is a genuine Fairhope treasure, not that that means much these days. Built in 1916 by Ed Roberts, one of the bay boat pilots, it was solidly constructed and has an ambiance of bygone days that suggests the comfort of a warm hug. I've lived in it for four years and put more money into shoring it up and bringing it up to date than I like to think about. The house has meant a lot to me, and I thought it was likely to be where I ended my days -- until I woke up one day and my life had changed so I decided to put it on the market.

I'm not being realistic about the price, because I hope someone will really appreciate the house and its location. Like everyone in Fairhope, I don't believe in the principle of Single Tax any more, particularly when it comes to selling my own house. Part of this is because I know if I don't ask top dollar, a buyer seeking to flip the property will end up buying low, tearing the house down and selling high, and I will be the loser. Fairhope itself has been the loser in this game for many years now. If it doesn't look as if I can sell the house for my price, down will come the house and the beautiful two lots will be sold separately for a pretty penny. It might as well be me who gets the penny.

I don't feel one way or the other about this. Ever since I moved in I've sought to make an example of the captain's house: This is what old Fairhope looks like. You can do it too. Buy an old house and bring it gently up to date. I've been happy in hog heaven -- making a statement by the way I lived and hoping that statement would set an example in the town I grew up in and once loved. Seeing the fallacy of that has been frustrating almost to the point of heartbreak. Of course Fairhope is not what it used to be, but it is what it is. It is in a transition, becoming something else entirely. I just don't choose to stay around and be a part of it.

You'll read more about this here in days to come. In a way I wish things were different. But for me anyway, they will be. I'm moving to Hoboken.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Pelican Legend


June 28, 2007

Fairhope is known as an artists' colony. It never was one, but it once had a few real artists. Now it has an Art Association, mainly made up of hobby artists and offering classes in painting, sculpture and pottery to the general public. This club is very successful, and has spawned a few artists, to be sure. It's just that their idea of art does not quite coincide with mine.

An offshoot of the Art Association is a committee called the Committee for Public Art. This came into being after the Marietta Johnson Museum raised funds for a statue of Marietta Johnson, a very simple, tasteful piece with three figures, slightly larger than life, one being Mrs. Johnson herself and the other two being children who are learning from her. After the erection of this statue the Committee for Public Art went into action and raised money for a statue of "The Spirit of Fairhope." This work, an abstract, three-pronged piece in blue, stands at the entrance to the town, just across the street from the Art Association building. The committee has sponsored a number of projects, including sculpture of a couple of dolphins, a sea horse, and I don't know what else. Until the pelicans.

In the days when Fairhope didn't think of itself as an artists' colony, but rather a Single Tax Colony, we had an artist-craftsman in residence named Craig Sheldon who made his living in the construction trade. Craig was a wood-carver who occasionally got commissions to create sculpture. He created whimsical animals and occasional political whimsies out of wood, and built his own house in the form of a tiny castle, out of local tile, stone, and found objects. He raised three children and lived a rather astonishing life in his little corner of Fairhope.

At the end of his life -- I believe he was in his 80's and suffering from Altzheimer's -- he was commissioned to create a sculpture to go in the new fountain at the community college. The result is the statue of pelicans you see above. It was not Craig's best work, but it had a sense of wonder about it -- those soaring birds with their command of the sky -- as did everything he created.

He's been dead some ten years now. The Committee for Public Art had an idea to use molds of his pelicans and give them to some of their members to decorate artistically and put up all over town. Here's just a small sample of what they came up with. The effect is a Disneyfication of town, punctuating the corners of the toney, flower-bedecked village with little exclamation points of painted pelicans, looking for all the world as if they wished someone would wash them of their overwrought designs and set them free as they once were.

Word has it that one of the painted pelicans has been stolen from its perch. Someone says this is worse than stealing a Stop sign. Someone else says whoever said that is insane. Whether they are art or not they are all over town, these profaned pelicans, these tarted-up waterfowl that once made a simple statement by a complex man in the place he wanted them.

I knew Craig Sheldon, and I think I know what he'd say about the painted ladies. A temperamental man with the soul of a poet and the tongue of a sailor, I don't think he's resting in peace these days.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Okay, Hoboken: Freeze!


June 17, 2007

Freeze, Hoboken! Don’t let the developers in to tear down your glorious old buildings on Washington Street and put up something cheaper and tackier. Stay as sweetly raffish and wise as you are today, with Italian restaurants, bakeries, and row houses all over. The casual observer sees Catholic churches everywhere, and a beautiful Tudor style Episcopal church (with an announcement on its board outside of a celebration of the history of Gay Pride Week) as the main street becomes residential and trees crop up.

The Hoboken "attitude" is well-known. The surprise after actually visiting is how small-town nice the place is. One short shot on the train and you're in the West Village, in New York itself, but ignoring that, the small city of Hoboken (pop. 38,000, one mile square and so tightly bound by Newark on one side and Jersey City on the other, unable to grow) has a personality all its own.

Hoboken abounds with websites and blogs. Just Google it. There is an annual Italian Festival, a reknowned Music Festival, and Saints' Festivals galore. There are three theatre companies, one producing Shakespeare (de Vere) in the park. The Hoboken Library is said to have a special section of CD's of its favorite son, Frank Sinatra.

The view of Manhattan from Sinatra Park is spectacular. Sidewalk caf├ęs flank the fancy apartment buildings that face the river and the park. Beautiful people sip pretty drinks and see the mommies with with strollers across the way.

Stay this way, Hoboken. I can't stand to see one more important little American town lose its heart and soul.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Oz


June 13, 2007

I’ve had quite a trip, navigating the subways and looking for a neighborhood that hit me between the eyes. In the process I’ve discovered that I still love New York, and the city itself has been reborn into a safer, cleaner place than the one I lived in from 1964-1988. Even the transportation system has changed, been updated, expanded, and made more convenient. Living in New York used to be an endurance contest with a lot of perks. Now it’s even more perks -- and less endurance is required.

Overall, it has a lot more to offer – but the price is way higher than it used to be, which is to be expected. Well, New York, you’ve changed. I’ve changed too. (That’s a line from a 1970’s ad for a now-defunct bank.)

I’ve been to neighborhoods I never heard of in the old days: Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Long Island City. I’ve been to places that have been washed down, cleaned up and scaled up. I’m staying in a neighborhood that was once full of dirt, homeless men, and prostitutes – and is now one of the prime residential areas of the city, with elegant brownstones sporting roses in front and power-washed facades.

But nothing struck me like the neighborhood I found yesterday. I had heard about it but nobody I asked was clear how to get there. Everybody had heard of it, heard good things about it, but seemed to think it was remote or difficult to find. I was determined. With a moniker like “Dumbo,” how obscure could it be. There’s TriBeCa, SoHo, NoHo, and Dumbo, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. There is some question if there even is a Manhattan Bridge overpass, but everybody has heard of Dumbo.

I made my way via the subway to Brooklyn, went a stop too far, but I hadn’t wanted to get sidetracked into Brooklyn Heights, a beautiful neighborhood I already know pretty well. I asked a cop where the bridge was and was pointed in the right direction with the instruction, “It’s a good little walk.”

As I approached my destination, I took this picture. The sight of that activity in view of the bridge literally took my breath away. This is it, folks, Oz. The section of Brooklyn, overlooking the city with converted warehouses, great restaurants, parks, and apartments that recently were deserted offices and storage buildings. I had found Dumbo, and I loved it at first sight.

Monday, June 11, 2007

An Evening with Piaf

June 11, 2007

How could a bioflick about the tragic French singer Edith Piaf be anything but depressing? I said something similar to my nephew Will yesterday at brunch, while we listened to the lovely singer Pamela Luss at the Mannahatta lounge/restaurant in SoHo. We were talking about the new movie La Vie en Rose and discussing whether or not either of us would go.

But then I had an evening with nothing to do, and knowing it would be unlikely the film would ever make the screens at cineplexes in Lower Alabama, I opted to catch it at a screen a few blocks away, on West 23rd Street.

I knew what I was in for – a grueling retelling of a life as full of heartbreak and trauma as the voice of Piaf herself, the trembling “little sparrow,” who could fill a stage with the strength of her pain and the glare of her sheer human endurance. French actors have a gift for capturing the ordinary and making it as compelling as it is beautiful. You can see all the way through the eyes of these performers to their hearts, souls, and the national character of La France itself. Marion Cotillard, a beauty I had not seen before, transforms herself to the singer from the streets of Paris who came to be an icon for a generation of French.

The film plays tricks with time and surprises us with bits of plot information too late, but the overall effect of seeing it is that of travel to the Paris from the early through the mid years of the 20th Century. Here we meet a sickly girl, raised in a brothel and nurtured by whores, pushed by her street-circus-acrobat father to sing to hold the crowds. The first time out, she essays Le Marsellaise and does herself proud. This being her song, we see that she herself is a metaphor for France’s indomitable, tortured soul, and we see why the French responded to her with adoration to the point of idolatry. Never mind that the real Piaf was 4’8” and wraithlike, that her voice was a piercing, trembling, emotionally wrenching shriek from a heart begging to be broken once more. Never mind that the real Piaf had a life of success, adulation, and was mentor and lover to Yves Montand (among others), and died not of overwork or neglect as the film suggests, but of cancer, at the time married to a 26-year-old man who adored her. This movie dwells on her tragedy, and bathes us in it.

Having said that, I know it’s weird to admit I liked it. Americans will be reminded a bit of Judy Garland, and rightly so, but Piaf was herself, and she was Paris. The movie is beautiful, Cotillard is breathtaking, and you leave the theatre being thankful to be ordinary.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Hiatusville

June 6, 2007

Tomorrow I leave for a vacation in New York. I'll take my laptop, but my dance card is pretty full and I don't expect to be posting on the blog.

It may be hard to understand that writing for a blog is (for me anyway) as much an addiction as reading blogs probably is for you. It's a public journal, an archive of life. As you get older you need to leave some traces of your work in a public spot -- whether it be graffiti scrawled on a wall, a poem in a scrapbook, a file folder of letters or essays, or even a baseless lawsuit that somewhere in your heart you consider your ticket to immortality.

Am I a writer? I started the blog because I had published a book, and I thought anyone reading the blog would be intrigued enough to buy a copy. The book did little to sell books, but it made me a host of new friends who drop by occasionally and sometimes even make themselves known. I see that I have visitors from the UK, drawn to posts about "Andy Worehole," which was the name one of my commenters used on one of the many posts about Andy Warhol. It's a phonetic spelling that the English might naturally use on Google, and I'll bet this is the only blog that particular entry takes them to. Others come from nearby Huntsville or Covington, for what motives I can't imagine, but I have regular readers from Jacksonville and the guy with bananas for a name lives out in California somewhere. At one time my regulars were from Madison, Virginia (benedict s.) and Sweden, and there were some heated and exciting mental battles between them. I still get frequent hits from a favorite oaf in San Jose, Costa Rica.

I don't know if I'll continue the blog when I return. I say I don't know because I don't. I tried to kick the habit before Christmas of last year, but I kept my hand in. Up until that time I was posting every day, sometimes quite well if I do say so myself. I suggest you browse past posts if you're interested. You'll find posts on specific movies and on the meaning of movies themselves, as well as the meaning of God, the meaning of life, and the philosophy of Marietta Johnson. Seek and you'll find. Use the little search tool at the top of the blog, in the left hand corner, or scan the months linked on the side. The blog was begun in March of 2006, but the first few months were deleted through an error of the blog administrator -- me.

I only know this. I'll keep writing, and I have a lot of writing to do when I get back on June 18. The blog may be one thing too many in the future.

Then again, it may not. It doesn't do any harm, does it?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

My One and Only Love

June 3, 2007

I thought that title would get your attention. Actually, the subject of the blog is the popular song by that name, one that had eluded my attention until it was recorded on Rod Stewart's "American Songbook IV" CD. Even then, I didn't think much of it.

Rod Stewart? Moi?

I admit I hadn't discovered the aging rocker until he began recording corny old songs and singing them on tv with an unabashedly straightforward style. I bought the CD for tunes like "My Funny Valentine,""I Wish You Love" and "Thanks for the Memory" -- the latter of which Stewart rescues from its permanent association with Bob Hope, who introduced it in his first movie, The Big Broadcast. Even typing the movie's title, The Big Broadcast, makes me feel like an old windbag. But while I'm at it, I recommend that you see the movie, or at least Hope's duet of the original "Thanks for the Memory," which he sings with great charm.

I'm still in the process of transferring my vinyl to my laptop, whence it will go to an MP 3 or an iPhone or something really sharp and impressive up-to-date. However, the music that's being transferred has a certain nostalgic tinge -- records I've had since I was a teenager, which was many years ago. I have some of my father's old jazz albums, a smattering of Rosemary Clooney and Tony Bennett, a ton of Frank Sinatra, my late husband's Count Basie, my old Kris Kristofferson, Tom Paxton and Joni Mitchell.

I even have a gang of Christmas music albums, including one I bought in Switzerland that has many of the old French carols we sang when I was a child at the Marietta Johnson School (I am bored stiff by secular Xmas music). I have transferred a few favorites from original-cast Broadway show albums: Have you ever heard Ray Middleton since "My Defenses Are Down" from Annie Get Your Gun?

It's an emotionally draining trip, re-recording all this stuff, because you have to listen and make powerful decisions to discard huge and emotional parts of your life. I've described it here before. I still love the music, but I don't need all this vinyl; I need less stuff. I'm more than halfway through, but I had to stop because it was too painful. Now I've started up again so that I can finish the job.

I picked up one of Jim Adshead's albums, "George Shearing: Blue Chiffon." I had saved "Velvet Carpet" since the mid-1950's, with its sweeping, swooping string-background to Shearing's inventive jazz noodling (Who can recover from "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" superimposed on top of "Dancing on the Ceiling"? I ask you!), but hadn't liked the "Blue Chiffon" as well, so I didn't familiarize myself with it all that much. I decided to listen to a side and see what I thought of it. The next decision was, can I live without this particular rendition of this particular tune? Okay, I like the tune "I'm Old Fashioned," and don't have it in my collection, and Shearing's version is very nice. Then I came upon "My One and Only Love," a song I knew only from Rod Stewart's CD and didn't much care for, with its contrived rhymes and banal sentiment. But Shearing's version was gorgeous. Not too lush, not too fiddly, but a beautiful melody elegantly jazzed up. I had to have it.

My nephew Will Friedwald is a jazz historian, and the author of a book called Stardust Melodies which gives the "biographies" of a dozen popular songs. He'd probably know the story of the birth of "My One and Only Love," plus the background of its writers and all the people who ever recorded it. I contend that nobody did it better, and that it comes off as well by Shearing as it ever did by anybody. I'm glad to have it.

As to my own one and only love, that'll have to come in another post.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Good for a Laugh

June 2, 2007

Say what you will about the National Spelling Bee. Movies have been made that touch people's hearts; movies about little kids learning the joy of achievement, about adults learning from children; movies about the pressure, tension, and the miracle of a child being held to some arbitrary standard and transcending the challenge. Broadway plays that win Tony Awards have been produced about spelling bees. I've said a lot about the spelling event over the years. I once wrote an angry letter to the editor of the local paper about it. As a matter of fact, I'm ag'in the whole thing.

We used to have spelling bees in school as a way to drill correct spelling into us. As such, they were harmless, and did get us to focus on a list of words and rules that would help us in a world before the Spellcheck feature on computers did it all for us. But the "national spelling bee" concept erased any real learning value in spelling bees and made it a showcase for children, a new arena in which parents could micro-manage their children's lives and the media could make a hero of a child, after months of memorization, repetition and focus on a single activity would happen to be dealt a list of obscure words that he had worked on learning to spell and not crack under the pressure by actually spelling the last one right.

It's no coincidence that most winners (including this year's) are home-schooled, where they are given full-time to focus on the one important thing in life: learning how to spell the words they might be given in the bee.

Usually the winning word is one that adults don't know the meaning of, and the child will likely never have the need to use. This year is no exception there, although the word itself does not seem to be a very difficult one. As in most tests, winning the spelling bee has more to do with guessing right than anything else.

But this year there was a treat in the contest.
It seems that most of the serious young spellers are normal, well-balanced kids after all, as exemplified by the adorable moment replayed most often on the tv news after the event. An 11-year-old from Terre Haute named Kennyi Aouad was given the word "sardoodledom" as his spelling word. Don't tell me he's not a good speller; he's had to go through life spelling both Kennyi Aouad and Terre Haute. Well, the word sardoodledom was one he'd never come across before -- except maybe on his spelling list -- and hearing it pronounced cracked him up. He knew how to spell it, but just saying he did struck him as funny. He would lose it every time he had to pronounce it. If you didn't see the footage of his spelling the word, look for it on YouTube; it's surely there, and it will give you a laugh today and a smile forever.

Can't help but love this kid! Can't help but hope that he knows how much joy he gave us jaded curmudgeons who hate the National Spelling Bee but love the spellers.