Le Diner en Blanc New York

Le Diner en Blanc New York
Lincoln Center 2012

Sunday, August 24, 2014

LE DINER EN BLANC

Two years ago as I was on my way home to my Upper West Side Manhattan apartment, I heard music coming from the outdoor plaza of Lincoln Center. When I walked across the street to check it out, I saw thousands of people in a sea of white – all-white clothing, white tables and chairs, white china place settings. I finally buttonholed a couple on their way out and found out that this was the second appearance in New York of Le Diner en Blanc (The Dinner in White), a French-inspired flash-mob-type event, described more elegantly as a "smart mob," and available by invitation only.

I didn’t know anyone who could invite me, but I went online and found a place where I could sign up to receive notices of the next year’s event. And then I promptly forgot about it. Although I never heard from the website the following year, I did get an email a couple of weeks ago telling me I was now eligible to vie for a spot online. Actually two spots: no one can come to the event alone; you have to bring a friend. I called a friend who immediately accepted. I was accepted to this august company of about 4,000 people who will gather tomorrow evening at various meeting places throughout New York City, and only then will we learn where the event will be held.

I pulled together the “elegant” white outfit I was instructed to wear, as did my friend, buying a few items that we didn’t have. I paid my $5 membership fee and the $30 each attendance fee. I ordered wine from the approved store, since we are not allowed to bring any alcoholic beverages; to prevent bringing in such contraband our picnic baskets will be checked upon entrance. Oh yes, we have to bring our own picnic supper (an “elegant” one, to be sure), along with white china place settings (no plastic!), white napery, cutlery (again no plastic!).

I have looked at the photos of others who will be attending, and I'm sure that my friend and I will be the oldest people there. And that's part of the fun and excitement of this adventure. More to come after tomorrow night.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

RIDING MY BICYCLE

The other evening a friend told me that she feels vulnerable now that she is in her seventies and is reluctant to get on her bicycle. I feel more vulnerable about getting on my bike than I used to – but that’s not because of my age – it’s because of a few other reasons. One is the heavy truck traffic in New York streets, where you have to look out for double-parked trucks, turning trucks, big trucks that can’t see cyclists in their rear view mirror. After reading about a fatal accident occurring near me to a 68-year-old woman when the driver of a postal truck didn’t see her, I have confined my cycling mostly to the wonderful bike path five minutes from my home along the Hudson River.

Here there are no trucks, no cars, no motorcycles. But there are dog-walkers whose dog is at one end of a long leash and whose walker is at the other end, so the two of them straddle the path. There are runners who dash out onto the bike lane without looking to see who’s coming, and who caused one young boy I witnessed falling off his bike as he swerved to avoid the heedless runner. There are cyclists who pedal in the walkers’ lane and walkers who wander into the cyclists’ lane. There are downed tree branches and puddles hiding dips in the road on the morning after a storm. And then there’s the yuck factor – like yesterday morning, when I was careful to avoid the two dead rats on the path and the steaming pile of dog poop.

But lest I sound like I’m complaining, I have to hurry to say that I love the bike path. I love getting out there early in the morning, seeing the swiftly flowing currents of the river, the buildings on the New Jersey side across from me, the majestic George Washington Bridge ahead of me, the clouds forming patterns above me. I’m lucky to have access to it so close to my home, and I make the most of it all spring, summer, and fall until I bring my bike indoors for another season.

Monday, May 19, 2014

HOLOCAUST STORIES FOR KIDS: TOO MUCH TOO SOON

Catching up with unread copies of The New York Times Book Review, I recently read a review of three children’s books about the Holocaust (April 6, 2014). One, a graphic novel (aka a comic book) called “Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust,” is recommended for readers age 10 and up. Translated from the French, it’s a fictional story told by a grandmother about her 6-year-old self whose parents were taken away and who then lives on a farm for the duration of the war. The second book, “Hidden like Anne Frank: Fourteen True Stories of Survival,” is recommended for middle-grade students, ages 12 and up. These true tales are more disturbing for being true, and also as they relate tales of children who survived the war – but whose parents often did not.

But the one that I was shocked to see recommended for younger children is a picture book based on a true story titled “The Whispering Town.” Although the book’s publisher recommends it for children ages 7 to 11, the Times reviewer feels that it’s “appropriate for reading to very young children [5 to 8] as an introduction to the subject of the Holocaust.” I think that even 7 is much too young.

I firmly believe that young people of all religious backgrounds should learn about the Holocaust, and I’m heartened that many high schools across the country have courses talking about this black period in world history. I hope that some of these courses even talk about the anti-semitism rife in the U.S. at the time, which prevented our country from allowing immigration of Jewish children and adults at a crucial time even after the world had learned what was likely to happen to them.

But I can’t understand why anyone would think that this tale of Nazi soldiers accompanied by bales of barbed wire would be suitable for a kindergartner. Young children often have nightmares after hearing classic fairy tales – “made-up” stories from another time and place. How much worse it seems for them to hear about horrors that could happen to them or their parents, the people who are supposed to keep them safe.

What’s to be gained from exposing these very young children to some of the worst history our world has ever known? Why would this and other reviewers (let alone the author) think that this book is a good idea? What’s to be lost by not protecting childhood for a little while longer?

Postscript: My letter about this to the editor of The New York Times Book Review was published June 1, 2014.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

WHO KILLED “LIE” -- AND WHEN AND WHY?

In the 1950s when I was majoring in English literature at the University of Pennsylvania, I often heard the word “lie” – and not only when a fisherman was challenged on the size of his catch or a politician caught with his hands in the cookie jar – or on an inappropriate sexual partner. No, I heard it when people talked about being somewhere in a prone or supine position. They would lie in bed late on a weekend morning, or lie on a sandy beach trying to get a now-dermatologically-disapproved tan.

I would hear the word “lay” only in the past tense of the above horizontal positions, or in expressions like “the lay of the land,” or, more colloquially, in regard to sexual intercourse. Even in this latter it was used in a grammatically correct way, i.e., as a transitive verb that takes an object.

But these days, the word “lie” meaning to recline in a horizontal position seems to have almost disappeared from the English language, in either its spoken or written forms. Instead, talk show participants, Oscar award winners, radio personalities (even on my revered National Public Radio), TV comics, physicians, and even many well published writers consistently say “lay” when they’re talking about someone in a reclining position.

What happened over the past sixty years? How did “lie” virtually disappear in the usage of even many (fortunately not all) educated people? My American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition) says that the two forms have been confused since the 1300s and the usage guru Bergen Evans wrote in 1957, “At present the verbs lie and lay are hopelessly confused in many people’s minds. The confusion is so great and these technically incorrect forms are heard so often, that some grammarians believe they should be recognized as standard English.”

Jack Edelson, my English teacher at The Philadelphia High School for Girls, used to caution us not to base our speech patterns on “what sounds right.” “With so many radio announcers making grammatical mistakes on the air,” he would say, “the wrong starts to sound right.” I know that Mr. Edelson would heartily agree with New York Times usage expert Theodore Bernstein’s assertion: “These confusions are not infrequent, but the errors can only be classed as illiterate.”

Saturday, September 21, 2013

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT A NEW DAY WILL BRING

I was just finishing my morning coffee today when I heard a child crying in the corridor. So far as I knew, there were no children on my floor, and I was just about to look out to see what was happening when I heard a light tap on the door. I opened it to find a young woman, a big dog, and a little boy about 3 or 4 years old. The only one I recognized was the dog. The young woman, Alyssa, was walking him for her relative who lives down the hall. The little boy had been wandering the halls and seemed to want to come into my apartment. He was barefoot, wearing only a shirt and underpants, and apparently lost. I live in an apartment building with three towers comprising some 800 apartments, and I had never seen him before.

Alyssa and I both asked his name, but he wasn’t answering, and when he did speak, we couldn’t understand him. Since many of my neighbors come from other countries, I thought maybe he wasn’t speaking English. What to do? How to reunite him with his family? I phoned the front desk down in the lobby, and when Tony, our concierge on duty this morning, heard that he was in my apartment, he said he would find his mother, who had been going up and down all 24 floors of our tower, looking for him. A couple of the building’s porters were also going up and down the stairs. Tony said he would call the mother and tell her to come pick him up.

Meanwhile, he was an unhappy little guy who didn’t express any interest in the cookie I gave him in the time-honored grandmother therapy for unhappy children. And it was taking what seemed like a long time for his mother to come. She had run out of her apartment without her cell phone when she heard the elevator going, didn’t know where her son had gone in it, and had frantically gone searching.

He was one overjoyed child when she came in and took him in her arms. She told us that he was autistic, which explained his inability to communicate with us. Fortunately, though, he did relate to his mother and folded himself into her loving arms, feeling rescued.

So that was this morning.

Yesterday morning I went to my computer about 7 o’clock and found a message from my youngest daughter, asking me to call her when I woke up. Since it was my birthday, I thought she wanted to sing to me. But no, it turned out quite differently -- she had slipped and fallen and hit her head against the metal drawer pulls of her dresser when she went to get out of bed in the middle of the night, now had a huge bump on her head with an accompanying headache, and thought she might have a concussion.

Several phone calls later, after she went to a neighborhood urgent care center (which I had recommended since I had had a good experience with one after my granddaughter had been in a taxi accident and cut her chin), she emailed to tell me she had been checked out, all her vital signs were normal, the doctor had told her she could go back to sleep and just to be watchful for any troubling symptoms.

So that was yesterday.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Friday, May 3, 2013

ANN RICHARDS – GOVERNOR, SPEAKER – AND ADORING GRANDMOTHER

Ann Richards, who died at age 73 in 2006, lives again in all her outspoken, tough, compassionate self as channeled by Holland Taylor, who wrote and acts in the play “Ann” now on Broadway. If you can, run to get your ticket – I have seen the show twice and am raring to go again. If you can’t see it here in New York, find out where it will be going next – first to Texas, of course.

The play is full of Richards’s aphorisms and jokes, the salty comments she was known for, but more importantly her strong feelings about justice and morality. “Life is not fair,” she said. “But government should be.” Those of us who remember this memorable woman with her pouf of bright white hair know her as the person who against all odds became the Governor of Texas in 1991. She was a liberal Democrat in a conservative Republican state, the first woman to achieve the post without coming in on her husband’s coattails. She had acknowledged her battle with alcoholism that sent her to rehab (before that was fashionable, she pointed out in a throwaway line).

The play has Richards telling us the story of her life – her marriage, her four children, the dissolution of her marriage; her first career as a junior high school teacher, which she said inured her to tough challenges; her rise in politics, from County Commissioner, to State Treasurer; the keynote address she gave at the 1988 Democratic convention, which catapulted her into nationwide notice; and then her governorship. As governor she reformed the Texas prison system, brought about economic reforms, fought (unsuccessfully) for ratification of the ERA, and did so much more. Her daughter, Cecile Richards, now president of Planned Parenthood, carried on Ann’s pro-choice efforts; in the play Ann says that the same people who complain about welfare payments to families say “Tsk, tsk, tsk, we're going to make you have more children you can't afford."

The part that won my heart as well as my admiration was the phone call that came in during a particularly hectic day in the Governor’s office. She was frantically busy fielding calls, signing papers, preparing for a speech – but not too busy to take a call from her darling Lily, the grandchild she adored. You could feel her pleasure as she spoke to her and sense the love oozing out of her very being for this child. The play also shows that at her busiest, she was still juggling plans for a fishing trip with her four children – and busily soothing the hurt feelings of one of them. During the talk-back after the play the day I saw it, a single mom said how inspiring it was to see this governor of a major state doing her job – both as political leader and as Mom.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

ONLY IN NEW YORK?

If you read my last post, about the “sidewalk hit-and-run,” I need to counter that experience with a couple more, showing that in New York you never know who you'll meet and what will happen.

After a big snowfall, I alighted from the bus in front of a three-foot crusted snow bank. Along the edge of the snow hill was a river of melted ice. Wearing pricey "waterproof" boots, my feet were already sopping. I hesitated, trying to decide which path to negotiate. A tap on my shoulder made me turn to see a burly 50-ish man who had emerged from the bus behind me. "Shall I lift you from the back?" he asked, and to my nod, gracefully bore me over the snow bank. I thanked him, he winked, then we both disappeared into the crowd and anonymity on Madison Avenue.

Then there was the time that I was staring at a Degas in the Met when a woman near me wearing a shapeless housedress-y garment looked down at me. I thought she was going to ask about the bulky knee brace I have been wearing since I tore ligaments in a lurching New Jersey Transit train But no. "You're wearing the wrong shoes," she said. I looked down at my comfortable red flats. "What's wrong with them?" I asked. They're the wrong color — everything else is dark red." "Everything else" was the purple Guatemalan poncho I was wearing. She looked appraisingly: "You could have worn black shoes."
"Don't they match my hair?" I asked with an amused smile, referring to the red highlights in my gray hair. "That's darker too," she pronounced. "But they do match your lipstick." My color lesson over, I stepped out onto busy Fifth Avenue where I was free from the fashion police.