Where have you been?

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So, it’s been a while since I last posted. You may be wondering, what have you been doing for the last seven months? Have you seen any shows? Gone on any trips? Do you miss the Bay Area?

Very good question.

New York is a bit of a sink hole, a place to disappear into. Get lost in the streets, find new and wondering music, art, and food, seek your fortune. To wear out pairs of shoes on the concrete, a physical and mental battering, that leaves  you tougher and sharper.  And yet, New Yorkers are some of the friendliest and helpful people I have met.

I have very much been missing the Bay Area. I love San Francisco, I miss seeing my family on a regular basis, and I have so many amazing friends, and many wonderful experiences. San Francisco is a place where people welcome you with open arms and offer you jobs and experiences, and accolades are regularly given for hard work.  No one will hand you anything in New York, you have to beg for it.

My father sent me this article from the SF Chronicle the other day about a mass mugging at a Casual Carpool stop in Rockridge. I lived in Oakland for a year and half. This way my carpool stop, and about the time I would have left for work in the morning. If I still lived in the Bay Area, I would have been there. I have many close friends who live near that area and take that carpool. And more than anything, it makes me angry that these people would taint something like this, a community venture to drive together to San Francisco, to reduce the number of cars on the Bay Bridge, to save gas and energy, and help out a fellow commuter.

The Bay Area is a beautiful wonderful place in so many ways, but there are many things that I prefer to New York. I don’t look over my shoulder constantly the way I did when I lived in Rockridge, or The Mission, or The Inner RIchmond for that matter, none of my friends have been mugged at gunpoint in New York, or had their car windows smashed to steal their backpack.

A few friends, also from the Bay Area, and I had a beautiful evening picnic on the waterfront in Long Island City last night, watching the sun set and the skyline light up. My roommate Michelle very aptly explained, “New York is so beautiful…sometimes.” We all discussed our New York timers. A five year limit of staying in New York and then heading back to California, I’ve set mine at three, but it’s not a hard and fast rule.

For the last five months I’ve been working at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Development Department, but my time is set to end soon…so I’m figuring out what the next step will be.

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The Military Experience

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I’ve been in the process of culture improvement by catching a variety of performance events around New York. Some of it is terrible and over-hyped and others are small intimate hidden gems and I was lucky enough to catch a performance of a very small and impactful show at the tiny Access Theater.

Cry Havoc
Written and Performed by Stephan Wolfert
Directed by Eric Tucker and Bruce Cervi

This intimate show was both engaging and educational. My friend Theresa was visiting and the inside scoop of this performance which she has seen while taking a month long intensive at Shakespeare & Company in Lennox, Massachusetts.

Cry Havoc is produced by the Veteran’s Center for the Performing Arts which says on their website that it will “share its creations with persons who otherwise might not have occasion to understand the military experience.”

Stephan Wolfert (writer and performer) tells his very personal journey from war veteran to actor through stories from his own life and Shakespearean monologue, enlightening both the experience of PTSD and bring new life to the words of the bard.

I consider myself to be a lover of Shakespeare, but this generally extends to the comedies and tragedies. Whenever I see productions of the history plays I find myself checking, unable to engage with the battle cries and relate to the experiences of soldiers at war. I suspect this is partly due to my disinterest to war but largely in that it is difficult for me to believe a bunch of actors as real warriors, people who have lived their lives keeping their hands clean, unable to understand what it means to be at war and thus cannot communicate this to an audience.

Wolfert made the words of Shakespeare crystal clear, the urgency of Henry V giving he Saint Crispin’s Day speech, but also the sadness and terror of urging your friends to die alongside you.

Wolfert talks about being “rewired” to be prepared for war, to have the killing instinct, which is necessary for survival and thus soldiers need to be deprogrammed at the end of their service so they can go back to civilian life. I hope his message gets to the army and that more efforts are made to support soldiers in this process after their service. Ideally anyone who is planning on enlisting in the army, veterans, government officials and civilians would see this show and start providing better support to new veterans.

Washington Underground

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In honor of Inauguration Day, I thought I would write about my first visit to our nation’s capital.

I visited DC back in December for the first time. One of my oldest friends, Lyndsay, has been living in DC for the last 3 or 4 years and I was planning on going sometime for a long visit, but I heard that one of my favorite NPR podcasts, Pop Culture Happy Hour, was recording a live show at the NPR Headquarters in DC and I thought, I live on the East Coast now, why not go?

I took the Washington Deluxe bus to DC on Friday morning, which included a stop over  in Delaware at the nicest rest stop I’ve ever seen.

After a relaxing Friday night introduction to DC with actual happy hours at on the El Chucho roof garden (delicious veggie tacos) and Meridian Pint (which was so good we went back here for Sunday brunch) and annual holiday screening of Love Actually, Lyndsay and I set off on Saturday morning to catch some sights and go to the NPR Headquarters for the first ever Sale-A-Bration!

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Having an awesome local to show me the sights, we hit up the Old Post Office tour for a free sky high view of DC and pointed out important sights so I had a much better sense of the lay of the land. We strolled the mall, checked out the National Portrait Gallery sculpture garden, grabbed a coffee in China town at the delicious and aptly named, Chinatown Coffee and then headed to NERD-MECCA: The NPR Headquarters.

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I had imagined the event in some kind of vast auditorium and having to arrive hours early to secure a seat for the speakers. Instead we walking into smallish room tightly packed with tables covered in NPR swag and an area in the front for the recording. We milled about and found some holiday presents to buy and before I knew what was going on, the room was completely filled and we were at the very back, with a terrible view and it got hotter and hotter. We stayed for the first twenty minutes and then armed with our goodies we bailed in search of fresh air and Pho. You can listen to the live podcast here.

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After we ate and rested it was off to more parties! A friend’s house for Swedish glögg and then on to a house concert for some hot jazz from The Bumper Jacksons!

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I had been to some grungy Oakland hipster house shows, where people drank straight out of bottles of wine or sipped on mason jars of homemade kombucha as they swayed to the dulcet sounds of indie folk rock. This show was a less gritty affair. Guests brought bottles of craft beer to share, homemade eggnog and bottles wine, which were drunk out of glasses and mugs and the concert was held in the front room of a grand old DC home. The band had a great old-timey southern jazz quality and there was a general merry pre-Christmas vibe of good conversation and dancing.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my time in DC and hope to head back there soon.

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On our walk back to the Metro we got a nice holiday surprise!

The Local Culture

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I have four or five blog posts I want to write that I have either half written in WordPress or I am bidding my time to start writing. It’s raining today and I don’t feel like going anywhere outside the few blocks around my apartment in Park Slope, so I’m going to try to make this a marathon blog weekend.

Most thrilling for me is that I started a job! I finally got a job!

Ok, so it’s only a temp job, but I am still thrilled. It’s at a tiny little spot on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on 5th Avenue called The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Heard of it? No? Well, you might know it as the place where Blair Waldorf eats her lunch in the early episodes of Gossip Girl. Plus they have some art and stuff.

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My job is not particularly glamorous, but I have been spending half my lunch break everyday wandering in the galleries, staring at a few things for a long time, getting completely lost and having to run back up to my office. I definitely can’t complain, especially as the weather gets worse and worse, it’s nice to have such a big and glorious “break room”. Plus, the cafeteria has really good food.

Prior to moving here I anticipated eating pizza and bagels non-stop and I didn’t expect to find excellent Asian cuisine.

I was excited to find out that Pok Pok, the Thai restaurant in Portland, OR, that I ate at with my friend Aurelius Rune a few summers ago and we were practically crying from the deliciousness, has two locations in New York! I still need to hit up the main restaurant in Brooklyn but they have a tiny casual spot on the Lower East Side called Pok Pok Phat Thai that serves up really good noodle dishes and their famous drinking vinegars.

I am also now obsessed with a place right near me in Park Slope called Talde that is described on their website as a “Casual Asian-American Restaurant & Bar.” I could eat here every day. I’ve been twice so far for their noodle dishes and shared a fish with pickled chilies and crispy shallots and a kale salad with hazelnut ponzu sauce. If anyone comes to visit me, we are going here. Or Pok Pok. Or Both. At the same time.

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Further down the slope I hit up Union Hall for the first time which is a beautiful wooded bar that looks like an old fashioned library inside with indoor bocce ball courts and appears to be the local hang out for the single twenty and thirty something crowd, a retreat from the family/baby contingent that prevails in the area. I was looking for some live performance nearby last weekend and found a listing for the Little Top Circus & Medicine Show who were performing that night in the basement of the bar. The show was an intimate mixture of vaudeville showmanship, terrifying side show acts, burlesque and live jazz music from two members of The Hot Sardines. I was enchanted by the intensity of the performances and the very real pain of the side show acts and before I knew it I was chatting with the performers and other audience members and it was 3am and time to go home. I’m so used to the San Francisco 2am bar cut-off that usually sends me home at a semi-reasonable hour and time just slipped away. The Hot Sardines are playing at Joe’s Pub in January and I’m going to see about wrangling some friends to attend, when they do big shows they have a tap dancer on stage!

Quick, Light this Candle!

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Hey! I just wanted to throw in a last minute post about San Francisco Theater Pub‘s final show of the season, Christmas Bells are Ringing! a sing-a-long concert (of one of your favorite modern holiday-ish themed Broadway musicals) and also throw up the E-blast I made for the show, via the amazing MailChimp.

It starts tonight, 8pm @ Cafe Royale and should be a completely packed house, so get there early (I’m thinking 6:30/7pm) if you want to get a seat and also grub on some delicious Lobster Mac n’ Cheese from Hyde Away Blues BBQ.

Alas, I am in Brooklyn, and I start a temp job tomorrow, so I will not be there, but I guarantee a fun, friendly and song filled evening!

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Poster Art by Cody Rishell

Power of Love

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I had a wonderful time in upstate New York at my Aunts’ wedding last weekend. It was so lovely to spend time with my mom’s side of the family (The Finnish/Texan Harjus) and to be a part of the beautiful wedding ceremony between two people who are so very much in love and committed to each other. I hope I am lucky enough to find that kind of love in my life time.

I will write about the trip in detail soon in another post, because I want to share my experience of visiting the adorable town of Sharon Springs, but I realized I haven’t

On another side of love I saw Once: The Musical on Broadway on Wednesday with a Bay Area actress, Annika who was visiting for the week. A friend had suggested I see this show when it was still playing Off-Broadway last year at the New York Theatre Workshop, but, being a huge fan of the film, I was hesitant to go. (I have this same feeling about pretty much any adaptation, because I don’t want a delicate beautiful piece of art to pummeled into something else. I felt this way very strongly about Rebecca, The Musical, because I am such a fan of the book, and was secretly glad when it was postponed indefinitely, having no basis on the quality of the show whatsoever.)

Now I am kicking myself for not seeing the Off-Broadway show, because it is now at the top of my list of favorite Broadway musicals, but mostly because it felt un-Broadway to me. The stage is decorated as a big open Irish pub, full of musicians having a seisiún playing a few songs to set the tone for the show and blending into the main character “man” playing the title song. The bar becomes an open playing space in which the musicians/ensemble surround the action of the scenes and then jump in to provide song and play additional characters. The space even becomes a functioning bar pre-show and during intermission and (a little number of) the audience are invited on stage to peruse and purchase drinks.
For a film that to me was so much about place and intimacy, about being on the streets of Dublin, I couldn’t think of a better setting to translate the story onto the stage.

I wanted to pick it up (and maybe this is the Theater Pubber in me) and plop it into a real Irish bar. I think you could honestly just put it at The Plough and Stars in SF and be good to go.

I left the theater being struck by the message of the show: love and selflessness. It is a bitter sweet story, not because there is any villain, but because life is complicated, and it all comes down to how we treat and take care of each other.

I was welled full of emotion by the end of the performance. It also doesn’t hurt that all of the songs in the is show, especially Falling Slowly, make me cry like a baby and I was sobbing about five minutes into the show. Also, I am planning to watch the film again ASAP!

Getting Around Town

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In adapting to living in NYC I have been engaging in all sorts of less than notable activities: going to the laundromat, riding and reading on the subway, applying for jobs and walking in the wrong direction for blocks and then having to turn around.

I even have my own disgruntled trying to get from point A-B story! My subway station (and all of the ones surrounding it) shuts down every other weekend. So to get from Park Slope to Williamsburg (which is usually a 30-40 min straight shot north on the G train) I had an exasperating multi-step journey. (Please skip the next part if you don’t want to be bored to death.)

  1. Take a shuttle bus two stops to transfer station
  2. Need to transfer to the R train, Go into the wrong entrance, realize this a little bit late
  3. Follow signs to head to Manhattan/Queen bound trains
  4. There is a physical barrier, must exit and enter across the street
  5. Told I cannot enter there, semi break law and run in emergency exit
  6. Take first train that arrives
  7. Get to transfer station for the Q
  8. Get off
  9. A packed D train comes, but I want to wait for the Q, so let it pass by
  10. Wait 5 minutes
  11. Another D train comes by, so I get on
  12. Plan to get off at 14th st, but my train is express so goes one stop past
  13. Get off at 34th st and head to the downtown/Brooklyn Q, R, N lines
  14. Get on the train that is waiting there
  15. The train goes uptown to 42nd st (maybe I accidentally went to the uptown lines)
  16. Get off and head to the downtown/Brooklyn Q, R, N lines
  17. Get on train going downtown
  18. Train arrives at 34th st and says it is now heading uptown (well that solves that mystery)
  19. Get off train
  20. Transfer across platform to train that goes to 14th st
  21. Get off at 14th st
  22. Transfer to the Brooklyn bound L
  23. Take train three stops to Bedford Ave
  24. Somehow manage to only be 20 minutes late

Luckily I had a really nice brunch/meeting at this awesome french spot, Pates et Traditions and had probably the most delicious crepe of my life: goat cheese, figs, honey and rosemary.

On a more interesting note I met up with a friend and colleague from back in San Francisco, Elana who now lives in Brooklyn and we caught The Good Mother at The Acorn Theater. The show was not the greatest, some decent performances within, but it was worth getting to see the Theatre Row space, which is exactly the kind of space I have been dreaming about having in San Francisco. Although I would want it to be like a big lively open floor plan, gathering space with bar and restaurant, similar to Yoshi’s San Francisco on Fillmore. I’m thinking PianoFight might provide some of that to San Francisco theatre audiences.

We then debriefed at this amazingly cheap bar nearby ($2.50 or $3 for the house beers, blond and red respectively), Rudy’s Bar and Grill. I am interested in going back to try the special, Shot with a Pickle back.

Most fascinating of all, I attended Housing Works’ Annual Gin Mingle last night, co-hosted by Molly Ringwald (who gave a very concise and touching speech about her support for Housing Works and the services they people living with HIV/AIDS).

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I’ve visited House Works Bookstore a number of times now and decided whenever I made the move to New York that I would sign up to volunteer because they provide amazing services they provide they also hold a number of spectacular literary events.

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In addition to a selection of gin cocktails and punch the author Richard Barnett donated copies of The Book of Gin to attendees, which I look forward to reading. IMG_2411

The place was completed packed, apparently mostly with members of the publishing world elite, which I unfortunately (or fortunately) did not recognize. So, in addition to chatting with the friendly staff members at the bookstore I managed to unknowingly have individual conversations with almost all the “literati’ mentioned in this NY Daily News article. Perhaps I should try to feign knowledge in the future? Maybe pretend to be a foreign princess?