Monday, September 29, 2008

777 points

The biggest drop in the Dow in one day. Ever.

But honestly, with the way the Bush administration has run our country (into the ground) for the past 8 years, is anyone REALLY surprised we are in this situation?

This is what happens when you morph a democracy into a capitalistic state.

Are we happy now? If not, do something about it on Nov. 4 and get us as far away from these f*#ked-up policies and f*#ked-up people as possible.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman, 1925-2008

Mary's favorite actor died last night at the age of 83. What can one say about Paul Newman? As Jeff pointed out, his legacy will live on for a very long time. He did so much in addition to his acting career, that he will be remembered for being a philanthropist as much as an entertainer.

We just happened to receive "The Verdict" from our Netflix queue the other day, so we plan to watch it tonight to pay a small tribute to Mr. Newman.

(Is it weird to feel the loss of someone you never even knew?)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Confronted by art on a rainy afternoon

(This is Mary.)

I took today off and this afternoon, I decided to visit the Guggenheim. There were two main exhibits there (in addition to the permanent collections): one by Louise Bourgeois, a French artist who is now 96 years old; and another by Catherine Opie, an American photographer who happens to be my age, exactly (47). The links will take you to reviews of these two exhibits in the NY Times.

As for my review ...

I always enjoy the feeling of being pushed, pulled, stunned and shocked by art. Louise Bourgeois' work on display at the Guggenheim alternates between the truly bizarre to nearly lascivious to painfully true. Her sculptures are evocative and provocative, making one ponder the origins of human beings--even before there was such a thing as a womb--through birth, sexuality, and into the pain of all that is human about we humans.

That's not to say I loved every piece; I did not. And while I was viewing these sculptures and other creations, I had a peculiar feeling in the pit of my stomach that made me physically uncomfortable much of the time. It wasn't until I left the museum that some of the works really impacted me: particularly a group of installations called Cells. These were various doors and windows grouped into circles into which you had to peer ... and view various objects inside, like mirrors, waxen hands, clothing, bits of who knows what. On listening to the accompanying audio tour, I learned that the first word the artist used to describe this series of installations was "pain." My feeling exactly.

They are hard to describe. But imagine where you hold your pain, and how hard you try to keep it hidden. What does that pain look like? A broken mirror? A pair of hands holding tightly to each other? A bit of children's clothing that's yellowed with age?

Meanwhile, Catherine Opie's photography was jarring in a completely different way. Her candid approach to her subjects is disarming and tough. Her portraits on display were of people she calls "in her queer community," and they illustrate more than I could ever describe in words (but I'll try): the separateness of this community, the way many people in it try to set themselves apart through their dress, piercings, and/or a gender-bending way of dressing. So much in their eyes ... what they endure on a daily basis in a society that simply doesn't accept them.

By far the most serious of the portraits were those of herself, which included a "cutting" she made into her own back of a family made of two stick figures, women, in front of a cute little house--but blood was streaming from the wounds. Another cutting was done by a professional artist, the word "pervert" literally carved into the artist's chest--a permanent scar, as I saw in another self portrait done a few years later, of her nursing her baby son. (The one with the bloody "pervert" message also has her arms stuck with more hypodermic needles than I wanted to count, and a black leather mask over face. I read that much of her work confronts the HIV epidemic and the government's lack of adequate response.)

In addition to these crazy-mad portraits, I was impressed by some landscapes of ice houses in bleak whiteness (shot on a frozen lake in northern Minnesota), and a series of shots of surfers in Malibu.

While I envy the talents of artists, I don't envy the pain they must visit so often in order to achieve their art. I'm impressed that Louise Bourgeois has lived such a long life ... so many artists die young, it seems.

I'm including a few snapshots of the afternoon. The tree limbs reminded me of Bourgeois' "Spider Couple," pictured here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A few more Paris apt. "before" photos

Here are a few shots of the apt., from Jeff's trip to Paris last week. The walls are going up around what will become the bathroom (we are enlarging it--it's going from tiny to small!). There are two decent-sized windows on the side of the apt. facing the courtyard. One is in the sleeping area, one is the living area. There is also a small window above the kitchen (not shown in any of these photos).

Still lots of work to do, but we are confident in the Oct. 31st date for completion.

P.S. We are in for a rainy weekend here in NYC. Fall has arrived!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

French class ... oh, mon dieu

Mary started a French class last night, offered through the Chazen Institute at Columbia Business School. It's 8 meetings, once a week for two hours.

We will focus mostly on conversation with some grammar review along the way. The instructor is also providing us with a lot of vocabulary and idioms, which will be really helpful.

Oh, did we mention that Mary is old enough to be the mother of the other students?! There are only 4 of us in the class, and the other 3 are all young MBA students at Columbia. Alors, c'est la vie ...

Mary was pleased to see, however, that even though she hasn't taken a French class since 1980 (mon dieu!), she could hold her own in the conversation and understood about 90 percent of what the instructor was saying. Not bad, actually.

Meanwhile, Jeff is working his way through a French textbook until next semester, when he will probably take a Chazen class, as well. His schedule didn't permit him to stay in the class he signed up for this semester, which met 4 days/week.

It's great to have these options. And the price is pretty good, considering how small the classes are.

Maybe by the time we visit Paris next, in November--to sign off on all the renovation work and film the last bit of "House Hunters International"--we will feel more comfortable speaking the language!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Jeff's back in NYC!

Jeff had a productive, if tiring, trip to Paris last week. His sightseeing consisted only of his bike rides and a brief visit to Montmartre, while the rest of his time was taken up with apt.-related business: both ours and Rachel's. As you know from reading our other blog posts, Rachel will be living in a great place starting Oct. 1, so all worked out fine.

He also was able to purchase the remaining items for the apt. renovation, accompanying the architect/designer, Martine, to Ikea. So it looks like we are on schedule to complete the renovation by the end of October. Magnifique!

Speaking of French, Mary starts a French conversation class at Columbia on Tuesday night. Looking forward to that. Jeff is brushing up on his, as well, and will take a full-blown French class next semester.

Lastly ... Jeff had dinner with Mary Ellen, the wonderful woman who helped us find the apt. (she works with Adrian Leeds, of Adrian Leeds Group). To quote her, she told Jeff, "You're lucky you bought when you did." We love that!

She explained that she can't find any apartments the quality of ours for that price anymore. We realize this is a long-term investment, but with the Euro losing ground against the dollar compared to where it was when we bought the place in March, we feel like the appreciation has made that sting a bit less painful.

And the dollar's rise may also mean more American vacationers to Paris, so perhaps it will help our rental rate.

Stay tuned ...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"The Brave One": w/addendum

(This is Mary.) The other night, I started to watch a movie I had rented from Netflix called "The Brave One," starring Jodie Foster. I don't know if you have seen this movie, but basically it's about a woman whose fiance is brutally murdered, so she becomes somewhat of a vigilante.

At least, that's what I gathered from the first 30-40 minutes, before I ejected it and shoved it back in the red Netflix envelope.

This is the kind of movie that drives me crazy, because it makes NYC look like the most dangerous place on the planet. I realize that years ago, NYC actually probably WAS the most dangerous place on the planet. And yes, I realize that there are neighborhoods in the city that one shouldn't visit unless it's absolutely necessary.

But for crying out loud, must these filmmakers continue to portray the city as having thugs lurking around every corner? I think in the 30 or so minutes that I watched of "The Brave One," there were ... let me see ... 4 murders in public places (e.g., Central Park and the subway).

ADDENDUM: The place where the couple is initially attacked in Central Park ... It's not remote at all! There are cops all over the place, and lots of people, too (especially at the time of night it appeared they were walking their dog). Someone would have heard the ruckus and tried to help.

Would I walk alone through Central Park at night? Probably not. Would I walk there with Jeff after dark? Probably yes, especially if there were a lot of people around.

I ride the subway alone, day and night. I walk through the city alone all the time. Since we moved here in March of 2007, I have felt unsafe a grand total of ONCE, and I just quickly got out of the area.

Compare that to San Luis Obispo, where walking alone after dark, on deserted streets and through pathways without adequate lighting (Cal Poly!!) was a truly frightening experience.

If you don't come to New York because you're afraid of the crime, please think again. Yes, you have to use common sense (especially as a tourist). But don't let movies like "The Brave One" give you the wrong impression of this city, which is truly a magical place with wonderful people.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Swans on the Seine

I've been in Paris just four days but it already feels like I've been here a month. My poor French is improving, by necessity, and it took all of a few hours to adjust to the slower pace of life here. Mind you, everywhere else is slower-paced than NYC. Hong Kong and London may rival the big apple, but Paris is another story. It's a langorous existence here, by comparison. No street vendors hawking hot dogs and pretzels to people on the go, as most want to actually sit down a while and eat. What a concept.

Rachel is now situated for an apartment overlooking Luxembourg Gardens (see attached link to slide shows for one of her views from her Juliet window), which she'll move into in a couple weeks. Our apartment is underway and scheduled to be completed by the end of October. I have some purchasing to do the next couple days and our coop board meeting went as well as could be expected. We approved two projects that will improve the value and living conditions of the building.

Meanwhile, I have been able to somehow squeeze in a couple of too-short bike rides. It is actually easier to ride than walk, as I recuperate from my cycling accident 10 days ago. In addition, cycling on Paris streets is a breeze compared to NYC. Bikes have access on many streets to lanes set aside for just buses and taxis, which have given me plenty of space as they pass. On main thoroughfares, there are curbed-off dedicated lanes for cyclists. I've never felt safer riding in a city than here. I did try the Velib - the famous bike-sharing program here - and it's a cinch once you have a credit card for a French bank.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Paris apt.

Well, here is what our apt. looks like right now. Lovely, right? It will be completed by the end of October, our architect assures us! Jeff is in Paris right now checking in on renovation progress and helping Rachel with a few NYU-related challenges (her housing situation has been a bit problematic). Everything will get sorted out soon!

And besides, what good are the "after" photos without the "before"!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A couple of words about 9/11

We do not presume to speak for anyone who was here in NYC on 9/11/01. But we certainly feel, as every American and, indeed, many people around the world, that we cannot forget what happened on that day.

The two presidential candidates made appearances here today, at Ground Zero and at Columbia University for a group called ServiceNation. Here are a few photos from the Columbia University neighborhood while police and other security, as well as the news crews, prepared for their visits to the campus. There was a giant TV screen set up in the quad so people could watch a live broadcast while Obama and McCain spoke inside nearby Lerner Hall.

Mary bought a couple of buttons in support of our candidate of choice.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Big week coming up

This will be an exciting week for us ... and for New Yorkers, in general.

First up: Rachel leaves for Paris on Monday, so wish her a bon voyage! We'll keep everyone updated as she lets us know, in between sips of vin rouge, what she's doing in the City of Light.

This week also brings us to Sept. 11. You may have heard that both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain will be appearing on the Columbia University campus--yes, it's true. We probably won't be able to see them, as tickets were being given by lottery to Columbia students first. They are part of an event being hosted by the university (don't believe they will be debating each other or anything like that).

The two candidates also will appear at some sort of 9/11 memorial. We're thinking it might be best to stay away from the crowds and read about it in the Times!

Friday, Jeff gets on a plane for Paris, too! (Lucky ducks in our household, right??) He'll be dealing with some apartment business but also doing some sightseeing. Unfortunately, he will be walking more slowly than usual, as he got into a bicycle accident today during the NYC Century. Some idiot on a bike decided to stop suddenly in the middle of the bike lane, so Jeff and several other bicyclists plowed into him. We thought Jeff's leg might be broken, but thankfuly it isn't--just really banged up.

We had a bit of weather here on Saturday with the remnants of tropical storm Hanna. But today was picture perfect. Wish every day could be like that!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Wake me when it's over

(This is Mary.)

Can someone just wake me up when it's time to vote? I have had enough already.

Speaking of which--'nough said on this topic.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Scenes from Central Park

This afternoon, Jeff, Mary and Rachel went to the northern part of Central Park, where you can wander through several formal gardens. Here are a few scenes you might enjoy. Hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend.