Le Diner en Blanc New York

Le Diner en Blanc New York
Lincoln Center 2012

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


So many people commented that they were helped by my article about avoiding falls, which appeared in www.NYCityWoman.com, the free online magazine for women "on the right side of 50" (as its editor puts it) that I'm reprinting it here. I hope it keeps more of us grannies upright and out of the emergency room!

Improve Your Balance and Avoid Needless Falls

Some remedies only require common sense; others require classes in balance and tai chi.

by Sally Wendkos Olds

In my circle of friends, practically everyone—including me—has fallen recently. One friend hit the floor when the chair she was standing on to reach a high cabinet tipped over. One tripped over a small rug in her apartment. One tumbled downstairs when, wearing her progressive lenses, she could not see the bottom of the staircase. I ended up spread-eagled on a sidewalk when, looking up at the marquee of the theater I was headed to, I caught my toe in a crack in the cement. The ways we fall are varied and the ways to prevent falls are also varied. As we get older our vision changes and our muscles become weaker; these may cause changes in our balance, our bones and our ability to judge distances. Fortunately, we can do a lot to prevent mishaps.

“Reaching your sixties should be a wake-up call,” says Celeste Carlucci, a former dancer and the founder of the fall prevention and strengthening program FallStop…Move Strong™ at the Westside Jewish Community Center. Of course, younger people fall too, but the risks can be greater for people 60 and older. Many of us need to make changes. As much as we may want to look fashionable, we should wear sneakers (See Sneaker Savvy for City Living) or low-heeled shoes with rubber soles when we plan to walk four blocks or more. Also eliminate rugs that slip and slide in your apartment, learn better ways of picking up items from the floor and placing items on high shelves. Make sure your lighting is good.

Some of these remedies only require common sense, but improving our balance and way of moving sometimes requires physical therapy or classes in balance or tai chi. The stronger our muscles become and the more our sense of balance improves, the more adept we will become at catching ourselves if we trip or if someone bumps into us. Listed below is a compendium of recommendations from several experts.

Pay attention to your body: To decide if you need a class to improve your balance and strength, try the exercises in the sidebar and grade yourself honestly. If you sometimes feel dizzy or unsteady, have your doctor check you and analyze all your medications (including over-the-counter) to see whether any one of these or any combination is causing the problem.

Check your vision and ears: If you experience any dizziness when you walk, go to your eye doctor or ear doctor to make sure your glasses are appropriate and you don’t have an ear infection.

Wear shoes that give you good support: As you age the skin on the bottom of your feet becomes thinner and walking distances may become painful. You can buy inserts for sneakers and low-heeled shoes at many drug stores or see a podiatrist who can order custom-made orthotics and fit you with the right shoes.

Since most falls happen when we shift our weight and lose our balance, focus on keeping your body weight over your feet, especially when changing direction.

To pick up an item from the floor, bend your front leg, keep your rear leg about a foot behind the other, and bend down. You’re less likely to fall than if you bend over with both legs together.

To reach something on a high shelf, take the same stance: one foot forward, one back.

When walking down steps, if you’re feeling off balance, place your feet sideways and hold the railing.

When you wake up in the morning or after sitting for a long time as at the theater, open your lap, organize your body, and, as Celeste says, “pump the gas” for a couple of minutes before getting up by alternately flexing and pointing your feet.

Walking Outside

Consider every walk a mindful meditation, so you’re constantly thinking, “Where are my feet?” “Where is my body?” “What is the road surface like?” When I went trekking a few years ago on the narrow, rocky roads in Nepal, I had to focus on every step. If I wanted to look at the spectacular scenery, I knew I had to stop—I could not walk and look at the same time. We need to do this in New York City as well. As East Sider Myra Braverman told me, “When I walk and talk, I trip. When I just focus on how I’m walking and don’t engage in conversation, I don’t trip.”

Walk heel-toe. Make good contact with the ground by hitting it first with your heel, then your toe, with your legs a little bit apart so you’re not shuffling.

Use your whole leg and body to develop a good stride, but don’t make your steps so large that you lose your balance keeping up with them.

Practice using your STOP muscles: lunge forward, then pull your body back to catch yourself. Make this a habit so that if you trip or suddenly see a bike coming at you, you can pull yourself back.

Standing a foot away from a wall, keep your body straight as you lean forward, with your hands away from the wall. As you come closer to the wall, practice putting your hands on it so the movement will be automatic and if you do trip, you’ll fall on your hands.

Swing your arms when you walk. This can be a challenge on crowded sidewalks, but it’s important to keep your body loose and have an easy gait.

On snowy and icy streets wear boots with rubber soles, engage your abdominal muscles, plant one foot and then the other firmly on the ground, angle your body slightly, and lean forward a little bit so you won’t fall backward.

When walking your dog, keep the leash short and the dog close to you. When you bend down to scoop the poop, place one foot in front of the other so you won’t lose your balance. And keep one foot on the leash so Fido can’t bolt and drag you with him.

Be alert to what’s around you: puddles and potholes, uneven pavement, cyclists coming the wrong way, cars turning into the crosswalk, oblivious smartphone users about to bump into you.

Taking Taxis and Buses

Let the new taxis with high steps pass and wait for one that’s easier to get in and out of. To get in, sit sideways, hold the door frame and swing both legs in at the same time. To get out, do the reverse.

Don’t run for a bus. Instead leave early so you’ll have enough time and won’t be tempted to run. Always exit from the front of the bus, no matter what the recorded voice says, since the front step is lower than the rear. To get in or out, step sideways and hold the railing.

Create a Safe Environment at Home

Check your home against the safety checklist from the Centers for Disease Control.

Light is important. Keep a lamp by your bed with an easy-to-reach switch, and keep a flashlight handy, at home and when traveling, so you never have to walk in the dark.

Inside the house always wear shoes or slippers with a back AND, when possible, rubber soles to give your feet structure and prevent slipping.

Never walk in stocking feet, which are slippery.

Use a sturdy stepladder with a hand rail to reach high places; be sure it’s level before getting on and hold on.

Always keep your cell phone with you so if you do fall you can summon help.

Keep your floors free of clutter you might stumble over.

Enrolling in a class to improve your balance and strength can also bring tremendous benefits. As West Sider Lynn Minton says, “My ankles are stronger, my calves are stronger, my thighs are stronger—my whole body is stronger and more flexible. We all trip—just look at New York City sidewalks—but now I can right myself if I start to trip and I don’t fall down. I’m always recommending Celeste’s classes to friends.”

[Celeste is Celeste Carlucci, who teaches balance and muscle strength classes in NYC and who offers DVDs to follow at home on her website, www.fallstop.net.]

Sunday, August 24, 2014


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


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


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


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


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, 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.