Die Walküre

Goal #54: See 20 new operas.

If there’s one piece of accepted wisdom in the opera world, it’s that you don’t start out an opera virgin on the Ring Cycle. The Ring Cycle has been referred to as “opera’s Everest,” and not without good reason. It’s long–15 to 18 hours altogether, depending on pacing, with Götterdämmerung, the fourth and final opera, taking more than five hours. (That’s excluding intermissions, if you plan on seeing it live.) It contains all the opera cliches that have pushed people away from the art form: the fat lady in the horned helmet, Ride of the Valkyries, etc. The music is heavy, dark, intense. The productions can be notoriously inflexible; Wagner wrote down precise stage directions that many devotees insist be strictly followed even to this day. The plots are tangled, medieval and a little creepy. And then, of course, there’s the always-controversial Wagner himself.

I’m not a complete opera rookie, but my boyfriend is. He’s seen parts of a few operas with me, but Das Rheingold was the first one he watched in full. PBS aired the Met’s new and semi-controversial Ring Cycle in full in September, and for whatever reason, that was where he chose to start. It’s been fun to have a partner with me on this trip–Wagner can be a dense forest to breach, and nobody else I know cares about opera at all, so I’m used to going it alone. I can’t imagine C. is ever going to be the kind of person who watches opera on his own, but if he’ll watch Die Walküre with me, I can probably sell him on La Traviata or Turandot.

So, Die Walküre: The plot was a little harder to follow than Das Rheingold‘s; we spent the first hour debating whether Siegmund and Sieglinde knew they were related or not. The needless repetition was annoying, too–you stand there and watch Wotan and Brünnhilde sing variations on “I must leave you now!” “No! Don’t leave me now!” for a half an hour. Rossini once said something like “Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour,” which is an A+ description. And the Met’s multi-million-dollar revolving set piece is capable of doing some incredible things, there are occasional scenes that look a little too much like a 1980s laser light show. But I’m excited to get to Siegfried and see what comes next!

 

Progress:

  1. La Fanciulla del West, Metropolitan Opera, 2011
  2. Boris Godunov, Metropolitan Opera, 2011
  3. Don Giovanni, Metropolitan Opera, 2012
  4. Das Rheingold, Metropolitan Opera, 2012
  5. Die Walküre, Metropolitan Opera, 2012

Goal #47: Read 52 books in a year. (Progress)

Goal #47: Read 52 books in a year.

How Should a Person Be?, Sheila Heti

I started out liking this book, with its emphasis on female friendship–something all too rarely depicted in literary fiction, especially the kind of literary fiction that generated as much buzz as this book did. Then I started disliking it, once I realized that the characters weren’t so much sweet muddled 20-somethings but just obnoxious hipsters with way too much time on their hands. And then, towards the end, I liked it a little bit again. I hesitate to criticize it too harshly, since most of the reviews I’ve seen that did clearly came from people who just Did Not Get It, and I’m afraid that there were definitely parts of this novel that I just didn’t get. So I’ll leave the verdict up in the air, for now.

Too Much Happiness, Alice Munro

I read an interview with Jeffrey Eugenides where–in the midst of some sexist drivel–he mentions that every writer in the world wants to be Alice Munro. That much, at least, is true. Reading an Alice Munro collection is like getting a free master class in how to write a short story. I’m pretending it’s research.

Insurgent, Veronica Roth

These books are so bad. I don’t know why I keep reading them. The characters have all the emotional depth of cauliflower, and the protagonist, Tris, has an IQ to match. I got about 100 pages in before I started rooting for bad things to happen to the main characters. As soon as I put this book down, I swore up and down that I wouldn’t go near the third book when it comes out. But let’s face it, I probably will.

Continue reading

The Bee’s Knees

Goal #53: Mix 40 new cocktails.

Note: This means pre-existing cocktails but new to me. Also,  if I’ve drank it before but haven’t made it myself, it counts.

A Prohibition-era cocktail from here:

  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • 2 oz. honey syrup (3 parts water to 1 part honey)

Shake with ice, strain and pour.

Tasty, but I would have liked a stronger honey flavor than this one gave me. Using a 1:1 syrup or even just straight honey, as some recipes suggest, might be good. I’d also try upping the gin flavor to 1.5 oz. or even 2 oz. depending on your tastes–as is, the lemon overwhelms it.

I also made a variation with bourbon for my boyfriend (who’s not a gin fan). I liked that one even better, and with a stronger honey flavor it could be delicious. Continue reading

Goal #26: Watch the AFI Top 100. (Progress)

Goal #26: Watch the AFI Top 100 movies.

Note: The AFI released two lists, one in 1998 and one in 2007. I’ll consider this goal finished if I complete one of the lists, but I’ll probably aim for both of them.

This week I watched:

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is one of those weird movies that only could have been made 1967-1969. It’s half early ’60s problem picture, very earnest and speech-y. And it’s half very contemporary, a movie about the Civil Rights Movement falling apart when people have to come to grips with the reality of it instead of the philosophy about it. Of course, today it looks dated; like American Graffiti, it’s one of those films which captured the zeitgeist perfectly but that later critics have less and less of a connection to as the years pass. Guess Who‘s star fell quickly even between the release of the 1998 list and the 2007 one; attitudes on integration and “color-blindness” being the cure-all to racism have changed. And while I did tire of the film’s preaching, here’s one speech that I did love: Hepburn’s, when she and Tracy are in the car eating ice cream:

“You know for us it’s all been great . . . but you  know what was the best time of all? It was in the beginning when everything was a struggle, and you were working too hard, and worried, and sometimes frightened. And there were times when I felt–when I really knew–that I was a help to you. That was the very best time of all for me.”

Apocalypse Now: After all that whining last week about “boxing movies,” I loved this one. I’m not sure if we ended up watching a re-mastered version of this or what, but the shots were all so gorgeous, so crisp and modern that I couldn’t believe this was filmed in 1979. (It helps that 1979’s mustaches are back in fashion.)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: Hands down, the most painful entry on the list so far. Imagine going out with your couple-friends who always get drunk, fight with each other, try to drag you into it, reference the most inappropriate things and try to humiliate each other by mining their partner’s deepest insecurities . . . That’s this movie. If I wasn’t doing this project, I would have turned it off ten minutes into it. I get that it was groundbreaking both in Liz Taylor’s performance as something other than a sex kitten and in the role it played in dismantling the production code, but Christ, how did this get to be such a sell-out success of a play that it was made into a movie in the first place? Who would willingly subject themselves to this?

Continue reading

Goal #8: Save $10,000.

Goal #8: Save $10,000.

Accomplished! Pretty self-explanatory. I’m aiming for $15,000 next, even though it’s not on the list. I don’t think it’ll happen anytime soon, since I still have to pay the bills for my Paris trip, I’ll be going back to school, and we’re heading into the slow season at work, but maybe Goal #52: Create a budget and track spending will help.

Earlier accomplished goals:

  1. Make simple syrup. (2/21/2012)
  2. Lose three inches off waist/hips. (4/28/2012)
  3. Run with somebody else. (6/8/2012)
  4. Figure out what you would like to go back to school for. (7/1/2012)
  5. Do bicep curls with 25-pound dumbbells. (7/12/2012)
  6. Learn basic French. (9/27/2012)
  7. Save $10,000. (10/1/2012)

Apple Cider Margaritas

Goal #53: Mix 40 new cocktails.

Note: This means pre-existing cocktails but new to me. Also,  if I’ve drank it before but haven’t made it myself, it counts.

For cocktail #25, I decided to go with this apple cider margarita recipe.  I bookmarked it several months ago with the intention of making it, but it hasn’t exactly been seasonally appropriate . . . until now. Unfortunately, I have no Grand Marnier, so I decided to swap in orange curacao. That was a mistake. This recipe is sweet sweet sweet, too sugary for even my sweet tooth, and I’m not sure that even with the Grand Marnier it would have worked. This drink needs something sour in it to cut through the sugar–you know that old rhyme about one part sour, two parts sweet, three parts strong and four parts weak? This is just sweet, sweet, strong and weak. Some alterations I might make next time:

  • Not so much cider. With 5-6 ounces, the cider overwhelms the rest of the flavors. The drink either needs less cider (something close to 4 oz. might do the trick) or more tequila (which I’m always in favor of).
  • Cointreau instead of orange curacao for a little bit less sweetness.
  • A little lime tossed in with the oranges at the beginning.

In short, good idea, but the execution needs a little tweaking.

  1. Mai Tai (Trader Vic recipe)
  2. Blue Hawaii
  3. Castaway
  4. Eastern Sour
  5. Royal Hawaiian
  6. Blue Reef
  7. Planter’s Punch
  8. Harvey Wallbanger
  9. Brandy Alexander
  10. Mint Julep
  11. Trade Wind Cocktail
  12. Coronado Luau Special
  13. Mojito
  14. Captain’s Grog
  15. Lava Flow
  16. Shrunken Skull
  17. Singapore Sling
  18. Blue Hawaiian
  19. Navy Grog
  20. Don’s Own Planter’s
  21. Doctor Cocktail
  22. Pegu Club
  23. Curacao Punch
  24. Hot Toddy
  25. Apple Cider Margarita

Pizza Project Numero Dos

Goal #11: Get really good at making pizza.

Last week, we decided to go with a white pizza, which meant we needed a different crust. Last week’s was okay, but we a) didn’t follow the directions exactly, b) we cooked it a little too much and (I think) c) we rolled it a little too thin, so it ended up a little crispier than we wanted. With a white pizza, there would be no sauce to disguise any mistakes, so we had to get it right. This week’s crust turned out absolutely perfect: thin, but not too thin, and the flavor complemented the toppings perfectly. We used mostly mozzarella with a sprinkling of fontina for the cheese, and on top we layered sauteed onions and mushrooms with some veggie sausage. Amazing–I just wish we had more leftovers.

Before:

Pizza Project #1: Margherita

Goal #47: Read 52 books in a year. (Progress)

My Most Excellent Year, Steve Kluger

This was a really adorable YA book, centered around the “family” created by three Boston high-schoolers: strong-willed diplomat’s daughter Alejandra, Red Sox devotee (and Alejandra-adoring) T.C., and his brother-from-another-mother Augie, who loves old musicals and is on the verge of his first serious crush on the athletic Andy Wexler.  (As T.C. notes early on in the book, Augie is the last person in the world to realize he’s gay.) A realistic book, it was definitely not, and the common complaint that all of the protagonists’ voices sound the same is legit, but if you’re tired of the tortured gay characters in much of YA fiction, and want something more along the lines of a happy Boy Meets Boy-esque fantasy, you’ll love this. I was surprised to find out that the author hasn’t written young adult before–instead, he seems to be cycling through various genres but writing about his pet topics (baseball, old movies and Boston). It’s unfortunate that we probably won’t see another YA book from him, although I hope we do.

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection, A.J. Jacobs

A.J. Jacobs also wrote The Year of Living Biblically (where he attempted to follow every rule and teaching in the Bible for a year) and The Know-It-All (where he attempted to read every book of the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover), so needless to say, he’s pretty much cornered the market on doing things all the way and then writing books about it. This one’s about him trying to follow every single example of health advice ever been given in order to get as healthy as possible. I’m not entirely sure why I keep reading his books–they’re blandly enjoyable, and while the idea of his experiments always appeals to me, the reality is never as interesting as I imagine it. If you don’t know much about health, this might be a good introduction, but for those who already have the basics down, this won’t offer you much of anything new.

The Moon and Sixpence, W. Somerset Maugham

Maugham wrote this short novel based on the life of Paul Gauguin, the Post-Impressionist painter most well-known for ditching his life as a stockbroker and jetting off to Tahiti to paint the natives while suffering from syphilis and alcohol abuse. I had no strong feelings on Gauguin before this book–he’s one of my dad’s favorite painters, so I spent my childhood getting dragged to the Gauguin section of various art museums, all of which inspired in me profound feelings of apathy–but this book made me realize how much I hated him. What kind of asshole just ditches his wife and kids, leaving them to financial ruin, because he couldn’t just paint on the weekends like the rest of us, he had to “paint full-time” i.e. go live some romanticized vie boheme in Paris sleeping in a freezing garret somewhere and spending what little money he had left on prostitutes? And then manages to escape to Tahiti where he sleeps with prepubescent island girls, beats his wife, and plays up Tahiti’s image as an untouched libertarian Garden of Eden in order to, I don’t know, convince more men to leave behind their wives and children?

I can’t even tell you whether or not I liked the book because I was so distracted by how much rage Charles Strickland (Maugham’s Gauguin stand-in) was inducing in me. When I was done with the book, I thought, hey, maybe Gauguin didn’t do all of that; maybe Maugham took some dramatic liberties and made him worse than he actually was. So I looked it up. Nope–it turns out that the real Gauguin was even worse than Charles Strickland.

Progress:

  1. A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin
  2. Past Perfect, Leila Sales
  3. Bunheads, Sophie Flack
  4. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick
  5. The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
  6. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
  7. Oz and Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum, Michael O. Reilly
  8. Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West, Dorothy Wickenden
  9. The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
  10. Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, Dambisa Moyo
  11. The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm, Juliet Nicholson
  12. The Summer without Men, Siri Hustvedt
  13. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, Jennifer E. Smith
  14. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredibly Voyage, Alfred Lansing
  15. A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, Molly Wizenberg
  16. A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin
  17. The Comeback Season, Jennifer E. Smith
  18. Sisters, Schoolgirls and Sleuths: Girls’ Series Books in America, Carolyn Carpan
  19. A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin
  20. In the Woods, Tana French
  21. Hollywood Surf and Beach Movies: The First Wave 1959-1969, Thomas Lisanti
  22. Darkroom, Jazzy Danziger
  23. Divergent, Veronica Roth
  24. The Tempest, William Shakespeare
  25. The Curse of the Pharoahs, Elizabeth Peters
  26. The Likeness, Tana French
  27. Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver
  28. Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Film, Donald Bogle
  29. Elvis Cinema and Popular Culture, Douglas Brode
  30. The Challenge for Africa, Wangari Maathai
  31. Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher
  32. A Boy’s Will, Robert Frost
  33. The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, Edmund White
  34. Absalom, Absalom!, William Faulkner
  35. My Most Excellent Year, Steve Kluger
  36. Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection, A.J. Jacobs
  37. The Moon and Sixpence, W. Somerset Maugham

Goal #26: Watch the AFI Top 100

Goal #26: Watch the AFI Top 100 movies.

Note: The AFI released two lists, one in 1998 and one in 2007. I’ll consider this goal finished if I complete one of the lists, but I’ll probably aim for both of them.

Around February of this year, we reached the point in my AFI Top 100-watching journey that I’d essentially finished most of the films I was really interested in watching: the pre-1970s films, the romances and comedies and musicals, the classic war pictures and epics and film noir. What was left is mostly what I refer to as “boxing movies.” A boxing movie isn’t a movie about boxing per se, although most movies about boxing fall into this category. A boxing movie is a movie that makes no attempt to interest the feminine audience, a movie that doesn’t just fail the Bechdel test–it looks like it intentionally tried to fail. Boxing movies were mostly made in the ’70s and ’80s. Their subject matter is the manliest of manly: war (especially the manliest war, Vietnam), spaceships, the Mafia, gunfights. The presentation is gory, dark and cynical. Their female characters, if they exist at all, are stereotypical (saintly mothers, loyal wives or harpies, sex objects) or token, and rarely get more than ten minutes of screen time. Needless to say, I got a little stuck in my progressing towards this goal for a bit. At this point I just need to power through; maybe some of them will surprise me. And there are still films I’m looking forward to in the mix.

This week I watched:

Duck Soup: One of two Marx brothers masterpieces on the list. The closing scene–which involves the brothers going to war–and the mirror scene are classics. While I liked the movie’s quick pace and rapid-fire joke delivery, I’m just not a fan of the Marx brothers’ style of humor. I’ve never been a huge fan of slapstick, and Groucho’s barbs are just too mean for me to properly appreciate. I do have to admit to getting a few chuckles out of the mirror scene, though. A fun film–just not for me.

Network: Debates abound over whether this 1970s film about TV news production was intended to be satire or taken straight, but everyone agrees it was prescient. As newscaster Howard Beale suffers an extended nervous breakdown on air, his coworkers are initially concerned–but as the meltdown causes an upsurge in their ratings, it becomes a race as to who will be the first to capitalize on it.

Although it’s an entertaining film, my opinion of Network suffered from viewing it now, as opposed to earlier in the experiment. Sandwiched in between all the other male-dominated and overtly masculine films I’ve been watching lately, the fact that its only female character existed solely to serve as a metaphor bugged me more than it should have. Faye Dunaway gave such a great performance, and for it to be wasted on a role that was more symbol than character is depressing. Even Anchorman was more progressive.

Shane: A well-crafted western about the last days of the gunslingers, but I’m not sure it deserves its place on this list. Butch Cassidy did the same theme better, and Shane lacks the innovation and allegory of other westerns in the Top 100. Maybe I’m just thrown off by that damn kid, though. Child stars almost always sink a movie for me, and this one was more obnoxious than most.

Still to go: Chinatown, Apocalypse Now, Annie Hall, The Godfather, Part II, Midnight Cowboy, Rear Window, King Kong, A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, Jaws, All Quiet on the Western Front, MASH, Tootsie, The Silence of the Lambs, The Manchurian Candidate, The French Connection, City Lights, Rocky, The Deer Hunter, The Wild Bunch, Modern Times, Platoon, Fargo, Mutiny on the Bounty, Frankenstein, Easy Rider, Patton, The Jazz Singer, Pulp Fiction, Unforgiven, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Saving Private Ryan, The Sixth Sense, The General, Intolerance, Nashville, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, All the President’s Men, A Night at the Opera, 12 Angry Men, Sophie’s Choice, The Last Picture Show, Blade Runner, Toy Story.

Finished: Duck Soup, Network, Shane, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, The Wizard of Oz, The Graduate, On the Waterfront, Schindler’s List, Singin’ in the Rain, It’s a Wonderful Life, Sunset Blvd., The Bridge on the River Kwai, Some Like It Hot, Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, All About Eve, The African Queen, Psycho, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Grapes of Wrath, 2001–A Space Odyssey, The Maltese Falcon, Raging Bull, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Bonnie and Clyde, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, High Noon, To Kill a Mockingbird, It Happened One Night, The Best Years of Our Lives, Double Indemnity, Doctor Zhivago, North by Northwest, West Side Story, The Birth of a Nation, A Streetcar Named Desire, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Philadelphia Story, From Here to Eternity, Amadeus, The Sound of Music, The Third Man, Fantasia, Rebel without a Cause, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Vertigo, Stagecoach, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, An American in Paris, Forrest Gump, Ben-Hur, Wuthering Heights, The Gold Rush, Dances with Wolves, American Graffiti, Giant, My Fair Lady, A Place in the Sun, The Apartment, Goodfellas, The Searchers, Bringing Up Baby, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Titanic, Sullivan’s Travels, Cabaret, The Shawshank Redemption, In the Heat of the Night, Spartacus, Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans, Swing Time, Do the Right Thing.

Pizza Project #1

Goal #11: Get really good at making pizza.

Every Monday, my boyfriend and I try to make some kind of meal from scratch. This fall, we’re dedicating Monday nights to pizza in an attempt to see what works best: all kinds of crusts, all kinds of toppings, all kinds of cheese. (Seriously, this is the best science experiment ever.) This week, we had a bunch of basil to use up, thanks to my adventures in herb gardening this summer–so we decided to start out with a simple thin-crust margherita pizza. Not only was the basil home-grown, but the tomato sauce was made from tomatoes from my parents’ garden. Pretty delicious.