Thursday, May 18, 2017

So About That Time I Was in an Off Broadway Production

18 May 2017

We left St. Thomas in early May, and flew to New Jersey to visit Richard's side of the family.  We've been staying near the south Jersey shore.  Spending time enjoying seeing various family members, especially the up-and-coming generation - meaning all the little kids in the family.  And their parents, as well, but the kidlets are cuter.

We've enjoyed the sunshine, an arts fair or two, and the exuberance of spring flowers.  Plus lots of good food.  

We somehow found this wonderful glass mosaic mural located in front of the Arts Garage.  This is sort of an arts collective on the ground floor of a parking garage, with all kinds of art exhibits and shops to browse.

The Peace Mosaic is outside, and is just gorgeous!  Lots of origami crane images flying through the glass flowers - bright, cheerful, and hopeful!

Richard and I decided we needed some city time, so we took the train to New York City.  We both grew up visiting the city, and it's part of our lives.  Plus we both have family and friends here, so it makes sense to visit every year or two.

So this is how it went - take the train from Philadelphia to Penn Station.  Walk through the station to the A train subway station.  Get on the train.  (I fell over onto the guy who was getting up to give me his seat.  I'm good like that.)  Head up to Inwood Park, way at the north end of Manhattan Island.  Find our B & B, say hi to our hosts, drop off our stuff.  Go back out to get a nosh (a chocolate egg cream, also part of our NYC childhood visits).  Richard is standing on the sidewalk, and who walks by and starts chatting but my eldest nephew!!!!!  He's living a few blocks away, is crazy busy with work, but was heading to the subway stop and wow, what a small world in this giant city!!!

We've been getting in touch with family and friends, setting up times and dates to meet, all that.

But we were free on Wednesday.  It was a nice warm almost summer day, so we headed into the center of the city, Times Square.  Went to the TKTS booth to buy half-price theatre tickets.  Of course, hot shows like The Lion King and Wicked were sold out, so we talked to some of the staff and settled on The Marvelous Wonderettes.  Which turned out to be an inspired choice!

The Marvelous Wonderettes is a small production (four actors, all women) set in 1958, at the school prom.  The Wonderettes (excuse me, the MARVELOUS Wonderettes) are performing at the Springfield High School senior prom, home of the Springfield Chipmunks.  They sing and dance their way through teenage angst, shifting friendships, mean girls, crushes on teachers, and young love.  We see them again after intermission, ten years later at their first high school reunion - once again singing and dancing as they tell their stories of love, loss, and friendship with pop hits like "It's My Party," "Leader of the Pack," "You Don't Own Me," and my personal fave, "Respect."

So it's light, fun, funny, musical comedy.

But then they go one step further, and involve a few members of the audience.

We were seated in the 3rd row orchestra - meaning third row from the stage, slightly to one side of center.  The first two rows were empty, deliberately as it turns out.

As we were waiting for the show to begin, the guy who took the tickets at the door asked someone a few seats over from us if he wanted to have the actors sing to him.  He declines.  They asked the man in the middle of the row behind us, and he agreed - his elderly mother was with them, and he and his wife thought she'd get a kick out of this.  They exchange seats with the couple at the end, and the man is right on the aisle for future singing.

Lights, mics, action, the show begins.  We're humming along, or mouthing the words, this is the music of Richard's younger years and these were golden oldies when I was a kid.  We're enjoying the show.

And then one of the actors says something about appreciating the help of the French teacher, Mrs. MacPherson, and turns and gestures right at me!!!!!  Well, I know all about being a teacher, so I wave and smile back at the actor - and all of the teenage characters wave and yell various French phrases at me (including "croissant!"), so I smile and wave again.  And then they all give me their signature Chipmunk move, which includes little hand paws and chattering chipmunk front teeth - so of course I have to do that back again!

People are all looking at me, Richard and I were laughing, it was so funny!

Well, my job wasn't finished.  Apparently Mrs. MacPherson also has the golf class (because she's Scottish, despite teaching French?) and they borrowed my pencils.  We got to vote for Prom Queen.  As the actors collected the filled in ballots, one of them came over and gave me the envelope, and reassured me that I didn't really have to count the votes, that was just in the play.  I told her I really was a teacher, I'd have been happy to count the votes.  She laughed at that.

Now, somewhere in here one of the actors confesses that she's in love with one of the teachers - who of course is the guy at the end of the row behind us.  Not only do the women all sing to him, he gets walked up on stage and sits there while he's serenaded through a few numbers!  He was laughing but also a little embarrassed, not realizing quite the extent of his "being sung to."

Okay, so the character bringing the ballots over to me "trips" and the ballots go flying.  We have a few more songs, I hand over the envelope, and my favorite character is elected and crowned Prom Queen.  End Act One.

During intermission, I chatted with the people behind me - turns out the guy who moved from the aisle seat so the other man could be serenaded really is a teacher, and his name is that of the character in the play!!!!  I said I was a teacher as well, though not of French.  It was definitely a cheerful audience!

In Act Two, as I said, we're in 1968, at the reunion.  More singing and dancing, the guy in back of us is on stage again with more singing, it's all cute and sweet.  

And then my buddy on stage, the one who gave me the envelope, is going through the trials and tribulations of relationships, and is crying and once again appeals to her dear teacher, Mrs. MacPherson.  She's on stage imploring me to wave and blow her a kiss, so of course, what can I do but follow through.  Though I finish with another chipmunk salute, which made her break character and laugh!

Afterwards, I told the male audience member/actor that he did a really good job - he and his wife said I did a great job too.  It just was one of the more hilarious things that has happened to us in a long while!  (Fortunately, I never had to go on stage, not even for the final bow, LOL!)

Their website:

And that, my friends, was my debut at in off-Broadway show!!!  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

St. Thomas - a Deja Vu Visit

16 May 2017

We've been pretty busy, what with one thing and another.  Life, you know?

We had a fabulous time visiting St. Thomas, where we lived for 20-something years before we left for travelling in 2012.  Our visit was from 23 April to 4 May, right in the middle of St. Thomas' Carnival. 

I know, Carnival in much of the world is before Lent, and Carnival comes from the Latin "carne vale" - literally, "farewell to meat."  Carnival in Europe and South America is the last blow out before the somber mood, prayers, and deprivations of Lent.

But Carnival on most of the Caribbean islands has nothing to do with pre-Lenten bacchanalias.  Trinidad's Carnival is pre-Lent; all the other islands have Carnival at varying dates, usually related to something in the history of that nation or that particular island.

But sometimes, it's just because.

Example: St. Thomas's Carnival always is scheduled to
have the final week during the last week of April, unless Easter is in late April - then the final week is scheduled for one full week after Easter Sunday.  St. John has their Carnival culminating on July 4, because July 3 is Emancipation Day.  And St. Croix's Carnival is after Christmas, ending on Twelfth Night or Three Kings Day, January 6.   (And yes, that means the USVI has three Carnivals!)

I know, it seems illogical from a traditional viewpoint. But from a
celebratory and party viewpoint, this way people get more opportunities to enjoy Carnival, which probably is why it worked out this way.  

So yes, we planned our trip to coincide with the last week of Carnival on St. Thomas, the big events and partying in the streets of Charlotte Amalie.

Monday, I got my new debit card, no problem mon.  Tuesday evening, we went to the Carnival Village.  The huge parking lot next to historic Fort Christian (built in 1693, or at least that's the date on the building) is closed for three weeks while booths for food and drink are built, and rides and games are set up for the Children's Village.  During the last week or two of April, the village is open and there's music, dancing, meeting friends, eating, drinking, partying, and general merry-making all night long.

So we arrived, and of course ran into friends and co-workers we both haven't seen for nearly five years.  Lots of hugs, lots of talking to catch up.  Plus some of our favorite Caribbean foods (roti!), and lots of music.

My former school (the school where I taught for twenty-five years) has a traditional calypso/quelbe/and kind of jazzy band, and they were playing on the stage.  I went looking to see if I recognized anyone, and our registrar saw me.  So she took me up to the stage to say hi to the music teacher/band director - who gave me a hello and welcome ON THE MIC!!!  Seriously, my friends way in the back heard my name over the sound system - it was so funny to get this shout out across the village!!!

Then Wednesday is Food Fair - Wednesday is always Food Fair.  More traditional foods (another roti, and a small coconut tart).  More traditional drinks.  Traditional crafts.  Most of it served up by ladies wearing madras skirts and head wraps - yes, traditional clothing in the West Indies.  Food Fair (and much of Carnival) is all about the culture and traditions of each island or nation, so there are foods and drinks and arts/crafts that are handed down from generation to generation, old family recipes and traditions that link people to their past.  This makes Food Fair one of the most special days of Carnival, at least for us, because we get an idea of the St. Thomas of centuries ago.  Or it feels like that, anyway.  Although I'm not sure how far back the steel pan bands go - steel pan music is the soundtrack for Food Fair, so everyone sort of dances from booth to booth with some kind of calypso or reggae beat.

As with any major event, there are kings, queens, princes and princesses - and I met the 2017 Carnival Queen and First Runner Up, who happily posed for a photo.  Gorgeous and talented young people compete for the titles, both island wide (for the king and queen) and within schools and organizations (for the princesses and princes).  

And then, Thursday morning.  J'ouvert morning.  J'ouvert is French for "I open" and this is the early early morning road march.  People dress up in crazy ensembles and gather with friends to follow behind a flatbed truck with their favorite band playing this year's Carnival songs.  There's dancing, drinking, and all kinds of carrying on.  This year, powdered paint was the big thing, people covered in paint and huge dust clouds of color floating in the air - and occasional watering trucks to turn the pigment into true paint.  J'ouvert always seems to me to be the closest to a true bacchanalia - just chaos and a time to act as crazy as you've always wanted to act.  

We're part of the "sidewalk posse," meaning we just stand on the sidewalk dancing and watching the revelers, occasionally waving to someone we know, or getting a hug, or whatever.  We were at the waterfront by 5:45 AM, and saw all but one band go by.  Most had big crowds, though one sad band had no one following them.  (And we agreed, the music was pretty bad.) 

The winner of the road march is basically the band with the largest crowd following them - and downtown is closed while thousands of people gather for a  couple of miles along the waterfront drive, blocking traffic and just having a big street party for several hours as the sun comes up. 

After that early start to the day, the rest of Thursday is usually spent either napping or at the beach - though I think there were also horse races in the afternoon.  We went to the beach and enjoyed the warm tropical water, which we've missed.

Friday is the Children's Parade.  There are majorettes, bands, steel pan bands, school groups, community groups, princesses and princes, and anyone or everyone gathering to watch our island youth perform and keep the culture alive.  I'm including photos from the Children's Parade in 2012, because I didn't go - we spent time catching up with good friends, trying to see everyone and squeeze them all in.  But I've always loved the Children's Parade, with all the color and the kids trying so hard to do their routines, looking so cute and serious at the same time.  The older kids and the teens are more relaxed and happier - but the little ones are so cute in their concentration.

Yes, we had Sabbath services at the synagogue on Friday night, another chance to catch up with friends.  And then another round at the Carnival Village, with more music, more friends, more dancing.

Saturday is the Adult Parade - this is a HUGE event, and can run from 10 AM to about 9 PM, when the fireworks are supposed to start.  I had planned to meet up with friends, but my knee was complaining about the dancing from the night before, so I stayed in and iced it.  So my photos are again from Carnival 2012, but you get the idea of what it looks like - colorful, cultural, a little chaotic, and mostly joyous and celebratory.

There's a saying "Rain don't stop de Carnival" and this is true - it rained on the Children's Parade, it rained a little on the Adult Parade, and it rained on Saturday evening for the fireworks and the Last Lap (the last round at the village).

But we headed down to the shopping mall by the cruise ship dock, and had a light dinner.  Waited out the rain, and found a spot to stand right by the dock - and about 20 minutes late, when the parade was over, we had a spectacular view of the fireworks over Charlotte Amalie Harbor.  Loud and percussive, colorful and flashing bright, lighting up the clouds and skies and competing with the lights of the village.  Fireworks are always wonderful, and for me, the closer I am the better they are.  So it was a wonderful location, far from the crowds and actually closer to the fireworks themselves.

I should add that we've usually lived in an apartment with a decent view of the fireworks, so we never needed to go anywhere to see them.  In fact, several times we'd have friends come over for a fireworks party - dinner before, dessert after, fireworks a separate course. 

And then, sadly, Carnival was over.  Many people go down to Magens Bay for a Sunday party, and we've done this before, it's fun.  But we met up with friends for brunch, and skipped the beach.

We had four more days on St. Thomas, so we focused on seeing friends and co-workers.  I spent half a day at school, visiting principals and teacher friends.  And of course the murals I did with my students - two murals, each nine feet high and twenty-seven feet long.  Designed by students, and we even made some of our ceramic tiles because we couldn't find the colors we wanted or needed.  It took us four years to put up and complete the two murals, with a summer grouting (with a very good friend who volunteered to help with that aspect).

Understandable why I love seeing murals, especially mosaic murals, as we travel around the world!!!

You can also see why I'm so late posting all the fun times from St. Thomas.

I also need to add a shout out to our friends who own the lovely resort where we stayed - if you visit St. Thomas, this is a boutique hotel complete with studio or apartment rooms (yes, with a kitchen), pools, restaurants, and it's really close to Magens Bay, one of the top ten beaches in the world (according to National Geographic magazine).  Stay here:

I'll try to catch up over the next few days, but we're now in New York, and you know how busy it can be in the city that never sleeps.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Still Dancing in Cartagena

18 April 2017

The other evening, we were having dinner at our friendly neighborhood café, and listening to the music in the Plaza de la Trinidad.  First there was a singer with a guitar, performing several songs in Spanish or in English.  Then there was a violinist and a drummer, soaring their way through what we think were a number of Colombian or Andean folk songs.  And then a mariachi or salsa band, men in black and silver with sombreros, playing upbeat horn and guitar music and singing "aye yiy yiy yiy."

Our plaza is definitely the center of our neighborhood, and this mix of continuous music is the heartbeat.  Or maybe the soundtrack of Cartagena.  It reminded me of our time in the "Little India" part of Kuala Lumpur, where the music on the street was definitely Indian Bollywood get out and twirl and dance music.  Here, the music is also a get up and dance kind of music, but decidedly spicy and picante, like salsa - both salsa the music and salsa the sauce.  Definitely rhythmic and hot and swaying bodies and rapidly tapping feet.  

The soundtrack of Cartagena, maybe all Colombia.

We've looked at going to other parts of Colombia, but Bogota and Medellin are at high altitudes, cold and rainy right now.  Down south had horrible flooding and mudslides.  The islands in the Caribbean are a maybe, but we're heading to St. Thomas for Carnival (surprise!), so it seems silly to take a long boat trip to get to the beaches.

And we're having fun in Cartagena.  So, we're opting to stay here for our month in Colombia, wandering around the colorful neighborhoods, finding hidden gems in the shape of markets, buildings, parks, cafés, the occasional bakery.  

One little park or plaza might feature busts of revolutionary heroes.  Another might be filled with metal sculptural figures playing music - again, music, the pulse of Cartagena.

I spent one afternoon at the Zenu Gold Museum, which was interesting.  The walk there was even more eventful, though - I of course made a wrong turn and couldn't find the museum or the plaza that was my landmark for the museum's location.  Instead, I wandered by a photo shoot - some very attractive South American guy, all dressed up, leaning casually on a motorcycle while people ran around holding lights, shade, cameras, taking photos.  Plus a gaggle of onlookers, mostly on their mobile phones telling someone what was going on.  I finally asked a few young women "El persona, el es muy famoso?"  "Si, si," they answered.  And gave me his name, which of course I didn't recognize.  "Ah!  El es muy bonito!" I replied, accompanied with a little ooh-la-la hand wave.  (He is very handsome!)  They giggled and agreed as only young fans can.

As I walked away, heading in the opposite direction back toward the museum, I looked back - and my young friends were posing and taking selfies with the hot guy, whoever he was.  (I later found out from some other people who gave me directions that the guy was a Colombian actor.)

So, the Zenu Gold Museum.  Various groups of people lived in this region for the past 11,000 years or so.  The groups living in the plains between the Caribbean coast and the Andes eventually became known for their incredibly beautiful and detailed metalwork, especially in gold.

Different groups of people used different techniques; some hammered the gold into smooth sheets which they cut and pierced into intricate shapes.  Others used lost wax casting.  Still other groups made super-thin wires that they twisted and entwined into objects similar to the filigree work we see today.

The people living closest to the area that is now Cartagena were the Zenu, very interesting people.  Not only did they make gorgeous gold pieces - breastplates, earrings, nose rings, ornaments to be buried with the dead.  They also figured out how to live and farm along the river deltas, which flooded on a yearly basis.  The Zenu dug canals to direct the floodwaters, and built up raised beds where their crops could grow, irrigated by those canals full of water.  Ingenious, especially for people some 2200 or so years ago!

The jewelry, of course, was gorgeous.  Items tended to look like objects in nature - seashells, birds in flight, snakes, jaguars or wild dogs.  Sculpture of humans was almost Cubist in style, with angles and simplified features and abstract symbols.  ALL  IN  GOLD!!!!!

I loved it.  Absolutely wonderful!  I would have been happy to wear about 90% of the objects in this museum, although I probably would skip wearing anything in my nose.  But the work was so detailed, it was hard to remember that the artists were making these objects by hand, without the benefit of electricity or modern tools or machinery.  Even the tools they used to work the gold were made by hand!

The Zenu also decorated their body with paint applied by carved rollers.  Really - you know how you can buy stamps for making designs in paint on your walls?  Or rollers with designs carved in them, and you just roll the painted roller on the wall to decorate your walls?  The Zenu fabricated tubes of clay with carved, incised designs, and then fired the clay.  Rolled these in pigment mixed with water, and then rolled these on their bodies.  Brilliant!

The museum is free!  Housed in an old traditional house, it's rather small and only on two floors around a central garden.  But a great place to cool off on a hot day, with really icy AC.  And of course all that beautiful gold!  Here's the museum's website:

Unfortunately, the museum doesn't have a gift shop - I was ready to buy myself some gold replica jewelry.  The concierge at the museum walked me over to a shop, and they had some replica jewelry - though it was large, and mixed with all kinds of gemstones.  Not my style.  Part of the beauty of the Zenu gold is the simplicity of the style, the clean lines and abstraction, the stylization of everyday or natural objects.  To my eye, they lost much of their focus when paired with a strand of malachite beads, or hung on the end of a huge chain.  

Luckily, by chance or by seredipity, a few days later I wandered into a "made in Colombia" shop a block away from our hotel.  There I found exactly what I was looking for: Zenu replica items made into simple earrings, bracelets, necklaces, key rings.  So yes, I bought myself several pair of earrings, similar to what I saw in the museum.  (I want to change the posts to hooks, so I'm not wearing them yet.)  Gorgeous!  And such a wonderful souvenir from our time in Colombia!

Wandering around the city, we've found all kinds of murals.  Not sure how many are official murals sanctioned by the city or some art committee.  Or if these are all graffiti murals, painted by artists who want to beautify their city, make a social or political statement, leave their mark.

Richard and I both always enjoy graffiti, and I love murals.  So I stop and take photos and we talk about what we think might be the artist's message, or what we think of the mural, or whatever.

Religious holidays are always interesting, and Easter was fascinating, although we're not too sure exactly what was going on.  The week leading up to Easter is known as Santa Semana, Holy Week.  Many places in our neighborhood were closed from Holy Thursday to the following Holy Monday (or maybe Easter Monday?).  Lots of churchbells, various church services including guitars and singing, with changing backdrops inside the church.

On Good Friday, in the evening, we realized were were in front of a huge group of people parading up the street.  They were singing, accompanied by some drums and tambourines, and a few people were carrying flares.  There was also a huge white cross in the center of the crowd.  We thought they might be heading up the road to the church, but they stopped partway up the road and someone started speaking to the group.  Not exactly sure what was going on there, but I know some countries or cultures do sort of a stations of the cross thing.  Though after sunset on Good Friday seems a bit after the fact, but, well, I'm not Catholic so I really don't know.

Then on Saturday night, in the middle of the Plaza de la Trinidad, there was sort of a big barbeque grill with flames leaping out of it.  There were some police barriers, and police officers keeping people well away from this fire.  We also saw a giant candle, white, lying on a bench.  I mean giant for a candle, maybe three or four feet long.  (One to 1.3 meters.)  We didn't see what went on, there was such a crowd surrounding whatever happened.  I asked our waitress, since we were sitting across the street.  She explained in Spanish, so I repeated in my minimalist Spanish to be sure I understood.  Basically, the priest lit the candle, and brought it into the church.  Someone else put the fire out.  I asked if the candle would burn for a week (because it was that big!).  She said no, the priest would (verb unknown, but I guessed blow it out).  So I sort of mimed blowing out the candle, and she confirmed that.  Again, our best guess is probably right, that there's some sort of vigil held from Saturday night until Easter Sunday, with this candle.  Kind of like an Easter wake, I guess. 

It was all interesting, but confusing to someone who doesn't completely speak the language and who wasn't raised in this religion.  But that sort of makes it even more interesting, since we can speculate and build our own theories about what's happening.  (And most of this was all happening at night, so I don't have photos - it seems rude to use flash photography when people are celebrating their holidays.)

Everything was closed in our neighborhood for Easter Sunday, so we opted to go out to Boca Grande, literally "Big Mouth," the area on the other side of the opening of the bay and part of the long peninsula we can see from the walls of the old city.  This is part of new Cartagena, the touristy part, full of highrise apartments and hotels and shops and American food chains.  Also a few casinos.  We met old friend machines in the casinos, and some of the games have been happy to see us again.  At least, one of the games was happy enough to see me that it paid me fairly well.

I mentioned that we're going to St. Thomas.  This wasn't our original plan, we thought we'd be in Colombia for a longer time.  Our visa is good for up to 90 days, and we hate to waste a good visa.

But we ran into a problem on our second day in Cartagena.  Somehow, after the cruise and before we arrived here, someone got my debit card number.  Whether it was from a vendor, or someone with a mag card reader, or someone who was able to string some numbers together - we don't know.  But I couldn't get money from the ATM, and I couldn't access my account online.  (Time for a metal RFD blocking wallet thing!)

Skype calls to the bank, a few calls back and forth, and we get the above info.  My account is temporarily frozen.  Card is closed.  

Since this is a debit card, it's complicated to replace it outside the regular renewal cycle.  I could send a notarized letter via FedEx to a friend, have them go to the bank with the letter and input my PIN, pick up a temporary debit card for me, and FedEx it to me in Colombia.     

Or, we could just go to St. Thomas, visit our bank, and I could do this myself.

We've been talking since our time in Rio about Carnival in St. Thomas, how much we both miss it, how much fun it was each year.  And how much we both miss our friends on island.

So we took the debit card issue as a sign from the universe that we need to go to St. Thomas.  Flights are booked, friends with a hotel worked out something for us, and we're set and excited!

But we have just under a week more in Cartagena, and we'll continue to enjoy the city and the music and the colorful streets until then.