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  • June 30, 2005

    Death and Kitty

    Last night, I had dinner with Quartet New Generation (QNG), an (are you ready?) all-female recorder quartet from Germany. They’re pretty fantastic — I heard them play at Carnegie last year — and I might be writing a piece for them. If you’re picturing four women playing little soprano recorders like you played in elementary school, you’re way off. They have recorders of all sizes, including one that’s over 6 feet high. It’s a crazy sound, like an ancient organ gone terribly awry, and it would be a blast writing for them. As is often the case, the trick is finding a way to finance such a thing…

    I didn’t get home until about 10:30, meaning AEJ got home from work before I was done with dinner. AEJ had a terrible day yesterday (one of those days that would be funny if it wasn’t happening to you or somebody you know), and as if it wasn’t bad enough before she got home, she walked in to find Loki a few feet from the door, meowing a strangely melancholy meow. Loki normally runs to your feet like a puppy greeting you upon your return home, but this time, Loki seemed to be talking to his toy on the floor, as if to say, “why aren’t you playing with me?”

    So, AEJ looks at Loki’s “toy,” and realizes that yes, it’s a dead mouse. This is now the third or fourth mouse that Loki has killed since we got him. He’s quite a little hunter, which makes me kind of perversely proud, but I felt bad that AEJ came home alone to find (and deal with) Loki’s latest kill. AEJ immediately hung up her purse (we have to keep it up high, because Loki likes chewing on the leather handle), and in the short time it took her to return from the bedroom, Loki had resumed playing with the now-dead mouse, tossing it into the air, at one point throwing it and allowing it to land on his own head.

    Needless to say, AEJ took the deceased mouse outside and threw it away, and returned to Loki’s pathetic “but we were still playing!” meow.

    On a completely different topic, I found a new favorite website yesterday: The Superficial. I enjoy Defamer, too, but The Superficial is much, much meaner. And that translates to funny. I can’t really cut-and-paste this story here, because my blog is “family-friendly,” and The Superficial is not, so click this link and read a sample.

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    June 27, 2005

    Elvis Lives

    AEJ and I spent the weekend visiting her family in Memphis. I’d never been to Memphis, and Memphis has to offer… (Get ready for a whole lot of bandwidth!)

    We arrived just in time for lunch, so AEJ’s mom took us to Corky’s, a famous (for good reason!) BBQ place.

    Yeah, it’s a nice sign, but the food was even better than the sign. We opted for the pulled pork sandwiches. I had my slaw on the side, which is not “how it’s done,” but I’m not a slaw fan.

    After that, we were stuffed — but not too stuffed for dessert! So, I ordered a slice of pecan pie. (AEJ and her mom shared a slice of quite delicious key lime pie.)

    That night, we went with AEJ’s mom and aunt to a minor league baseball game — the Memphis Redbirds (farm team for the Cardinals) vs. Round Rock (farm team for Houston). It was a great ball park, and we had excellent seats on a warm but comfortable night.

    What’s a ball game without a hot dog?

    And funnel cake?

    This seems to be an increasingly common trend: baseball cheerleaders. Weird.

    The next morning, we had a delicious breakfast: sandwiches of bacon, egg, and cheese on an English muffin, courtesy of AEJ’s mom.

    I’m not sure how we managed, but only a few short hours later, we had lunch: absolutely delicious burgers from Tops Bar-B-Q. These are the kind of burgers that are thin and grilled in something tasty and greasy (presumably pork fat), resulting in slightly crispy-edged patties. (My sister and I used to love similar burgers at a local chain called G.D. Ritzy’s in Columbus, but that chain long-since went out of business.) The toasted bun was something special, too — the gentle crunch adding an ingenious counterpoint to the gooey excess of cheese and mayo. I’ve tried making a similar burger at home, and I don’t think it can be done without an enormous industrial griddle that doubles as a a heating element for pulled pork.

    Next up… Graceland! (The home of Elvis, in case you’re from, like, Mars.)
    When you go to Graceland, you park across the street from The Home. As you wait in line for the shuttle to take you across the street, a photographer offers to take a picture of your group — which you can purchase later for $25. I’m a little cheap for that, so I took a picture of the family in front of us instead.

    They look like a nice group. (If you’re in this picture and would like a copy, please email me, and I’ll make a you a great deal on a print.)

    After the short shuttle ride across the street, we arrived at the home of The King.

    First observation: It’s smaller than you’d think. They say that about the Mona Lisa, too, and I think the two works share a lot of similarities.

    Once inside, the real fun begins. To your immediate right is the den, complete with a 15-foot sofa. From the beginning, I acknowledged that a lot of the stuff in the house was kitchy, but honestly, some of it was a lot hipper than I expected. No, not the busts of Romans , but who wouldn’t want a 15-foot sofa?

    This is Elvis’s kitchen.

    The best part of the kitchen was the bank of monitors, hooked up to surveillance cameras throughout the house. This, apparently, allowed Elvis to watch his guests, all in the comfort of his kitchen, where he ate grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

    This is my favorite room: the TV room. Elvis had three TVs in this room. I had to wonder what he’d do today, now that TVs are 60″ wide. This room was black and a vibrant, bright yellow. I think it also had mirrored ceilings, like much of the house. (Because, why not?) Say what you will about Elvis, but this room is cool, especially the monkey on the mirrored-glass coffee table.

    The most famous room in the house: the Jungle Room, built as an add-on to the house in the 1970s. Unlike the TV room, with the mirrored ceiling, the Jungle Room’s ceiling was covered with green shag carpet (like the floor, and much of the wall).

    Sadly, there is no access to the upstairs part of the house. (According to the excellent audio tour, Elvis considered the upstairs private, always meeting guests on the ground floor.) What we do get, though, are a few artifacts taken from upstairs, like Elvis’s completely kick-ass fur-covered bed. Nothing says pimpin’ like a white, fur-covered bed.

    Lots of fans sent Elvis paintings and such over the years, and this one was my favorite.

    Here’s the original poster for my favorite Elvis movie, Clambake. If you’ve not seem Clambake, do yourself a favor and rent or buy a copy.

    Many of Elvis’s, um, “outfits” are on display at Graceland, including my favorite, the Tiger Suit. Elvis was a Rock Star.

    We got the deluxe tour, which included tours of Elvis’s two planes, as well as the Elvis Car Museum. In addition to things you’d expect, like the famous pink Caddy, and various nice cars like a Rolls, a Ferrari Dino, and a classic Mercedes he bought for Priscilla, he had this completely sweet car:

    At the car museum, I learned something (else) quirky about Elvis: he financed his purchases. There was a Jeep-like car from 1960 that Elvis bought for about $2000. Elvis put $1100 down, and paid the rest in monthly payments of about $89 a month. I don’t get it. Why make payments when you’re Elvis? Could he really not afford to buy the $2000 car flat out? Same with another car that was roughly $30,000 (in 1972!). He put $20,000 down, and took a $10,000 lease on the balance. Again, I don’t get it.

    So, Graceland was a thoroughly enjoyable time. As AEJ said, it makes Elvis into a much more sympathetic character. He seemed to be a good man, and was incredibly generous (there was one display with a hundred checks for $1000 each, all written on the same day to different Memphis charities). He had some really cool stuff, too. (Did I mention the fur-lined bed?!) Definitely a talented singer with many strong qualities, and he OD’d at age 42.

    Okay, so after Graceland, we ordered pizza from my ol’ fave, Pizza Hut! My personal favorite topping choice is pepperoni, banana peppers, and extra sauce, but almost nobody has banana peppers anymore. They’re not essential…

    The next morning, AEJ’s mom made us monkey bread, which consists of biscuit dough covered with cinnamon
    and sugar, drizzled with butter, and baked. Mmm…

    Finally, before we headed to the airport, we went to the Memphis Zoo to see the pandas!

    Pandas like to sit back while they eat, and they often end up with masses of food falling from their mouths to rest on their gut. We share this trait.

    It was incredible how close we could get to the pandas — literally inches away from them, with nothing between us but a pane of glass. We spent a bit longer at the panda exhibit than we’d planned because while we were there, the skies opened up, and we were trapped by a torrential downpour for about 40 minutes.

    The skies cleared, and before long, we were at the Memphis airport, headed home to NY. We had a wonderful visit, taking advantage of the best parts of Memphis: pandas, Graceland, BBQ, and AEJ’s warm and fun family.

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    Vivaldi: The Movie?!?!

    This sounds like a joke, but it’s real.
    Do we really need a movie about Vivaldi? Probably not. So why are there three Vivaldi biopics in development?!
    From Variety…

    NEW YORK — Indie production company Mechaniks is developing an Antonio Vivaldi biopic based on a script by journalist Jeffrey Freedman, who has spent two decades researching the eccentric 18th century Catholic priest-cum-Baroque composer.
    Announcement sets the stage for two possible films centering on the tempestuous life of Vivaldi, whose most famous composition is “The Four Seasons.”

    Last fall, Imagine Entertainment and Columbia announced that “Lords of Dogtown” director Catherine Hardwicke would develop and helm “Vivaldi.” It appears she’s no longer attached to the project, however, even while “Vivaldi” remains in active development.

    Mechaniks’ “Antonio Vivaldi” has a start date of May 1 and will shoot on location in Italy and Austria. No director is yet attached.

    Mechaniks has approached dynamic folk-rock fiddler Ashley MacIsaac about playing Vivaldi. MacIsaac’s debut album in 1995 sold half a million copies worldwide.

    Boris Damast, president of Mechaniks, said “Vivaldi” has been in development for two years and that he’s undaunted by the Imagine/Columbia project.

    “Jeff’s screenplay avoids the predictable cliches that often dress up ‘Hollywood’ biopics. Vivaldi was such an amazing man, it isn’t necessary to try and ‘improve’ his story,” Damast said.

    Freedman’s script follows Vivaldi as the young priest is assigned to serve as a music master of a school for the abandoned, illegitimate daughters of Venice’s courtesans. He is plagued by debilitating bouts of asthma — as well as by doubts about the hypocrisy of the Catholic church.

    Vivaldi wins the trust and affection of the girls, and his bond with them leads to a concert of his music before the pope. [This is my favorite part. How touching. Gag. It’s like Mr. Holland’s Opus, set in 1739. -JM]

    Freedman describes Vivaldi as a revolutionary “Baroque rock star” who changed the face of music in his day.

    When announcing their project in October 2004, Imagine and Columbia said “Vivaldi” would follow the forbidden romance between the young composer and his muse Anna that inspired “The Four Seasons.”

    Hardwicke, who directed “Thirteen,” has spent much of her time since then focused on “Lords of Dogtown,” which Col opened earlier this month.

    Have you SEEN “Thirteen?!” I’m imagining that dark, edgy shooting style, telling the story of Antonio Vivaldi.

    Wow. Just, wow.

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    June 23, 2005

    Loki: Off to war

    Loki (our cat) wears his patriotism on his sleeve (or under his collar), and he’s been asking for ages if… well, he wanted us to send him to fight. In the war.

    The Kitten War.

    So far, Loki has a winning percentage in battle — 55% won, 32% lost, 13% draw — but we have to ask: what kitten could possibly beat Loki in the kitten war?! Some people clearly just don’t know cute when they see it. Please — support our kitten troop.

    AEJ and I are off to Memphis tomorrow to visit AEJ’s mom. I’ve never been to Memphis, and I’m excited about the trip — what could be better than BBQ and Graceland in the same city?

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    June 20, 2005

    Boo! Scary!

    AEJ and I had a most excellent weekend, yes we did.

    It started on Friday night, as most weekends do. Our first thought was to see the new Batman movie with Newman, but by the time we checked into tickets, all of the reasonably-timed showings were sold out.

    That’s how movies are in Manhattan. There are, like, two theaters that are really nice — three, really, but one of them, Kips Bay, is inconvenient to get to from my place — and the showings at those theaters sell out many, many hours before the showing. It was probably 4pm when I checked showtimes, and everything was sold out until the 10:15 show by that time — and there were shows at least every hour.

    Not only do people get their movie tickets ridiculously early, but people arrive at the theater so early that is always shocks visitors to the city. Friends will come from out of town, and they’ll ask me, “Why are we leaving for the movie already? You live two blocks away, and the movie doesn’t start for 50 minutes.” “Because we need good seats.” Attending a movie is a little metaphor of sorts for life in Manhattan in general. See, maybe it’s that my little drive to succeed in general has simply overflowed into my theater attending habits, but I’m not alone, because everybody in the city has to have a good seat. It’s as if your seat is a status symbol. Maybe it’s because most people here don’t have a car, and if you do have a car, it’s generally a wreck, because it’s going to get banged up if you park it on the street anyway. If you can’t flaunt your success with a car, you’d better have the best damned seat in that theater, even if it means getting to the theater an hour before your movie starts.

    But I digress.

    So, no “Batman Begins.” Instead, AEJ and I got dinner at one of our favorite local places, a Mexican place called Gabriella’s. After dinner, we stopped by Tower to rent a movie. We almost rented “Ray,” but then AEJ pointed out that it might be “inspirational,” causing me to gag at the possibility, and I quickly reshelved that title. Instead we chose “The Grudge,” a horror movie by a Japanese director, which is a remake of a movie originally in Japanese by the same director. (Yes, he remade his own movie using the same Japanese crew, shooting it in Japan again, but this time in English, and with a few American actors.) This movie was scary. It takes a lot to scare me in a movie, but when it happens, it pleases me greatly. When will filmmakers realize that CGI effects and loads of gore are potentially fun, but not “scary?” Anyway, I thoroughly recommend the movie. It starred Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so I was skeptical, but she was quite good. (It actually starred Sarah Michelle Geller — not the Buffy character. Just thought I should clarify.) The next time you want to see a horror movie that’s legitimately scary, rent “The Grudge.” (For extra fun, wait until your girlfriend comes to bed, and then tell her that you think you heard scurrying up in the attic, and maybe she should check it out.)

    On Saturday, AEJ and I took the train up to John Corigliano’s country house. We had an absolutely perfect time up there with John and Mark. We chatted, enjoyed good food and wine, and relaxed in the country. The next morning, after coffee and grilled corn muffins, we headed to a fairly new museum called Dia:Beacon, which is a converted 240,000 square foot factory that now houses massive installation art. (Check out their site.) AEJ and I have wanted to go since it opened about two years ago, and it was a completely spontaneous thing on Sunday. My favorite piece was this huge, incredibly creepy metal spider by Louise Bourgeois. Check it out. (You can’t really get an idea of how huge it is in the photo.) My other favorite was by Michael Heizer, who had a piece consisting of enormous holes in the cement floor. Again, it was the massive scope of seeing it in person that made such dramatic impact. The photo in that link doesn’t approach it.

    After the museum, John and Mark drove AEJ and I to the train station and we headed back to the city (and to reality). Just a wonderful, sort of perfect weekend filled with a good movie, good food, good art, and friends.

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