Since Michael and I live such a bucolic life in our year-round vacation home in Illinois, our summer vacations away tend to be one-week-long over-stimulation festivals, bookended by dawn-to-dusk driving. We do the same thing every year: see family and close friends in New Jersey, Boston, and New York. It is basically a "same time next year" affair, yet each year is distinctly different.
We saw signs (complete with actual signs) of the Recovery Act everywhere. There were projects in progress, and smooth-riding evidence that projects had been completed. The construction projects on I 70 didn't cause any real delays for us, though going slowly through the awesome bridge building projects is actually a pleasure. The delays on I 80 were not very pleasurable, but they could have been much worse (they were for the westbound travelers.)
We also saw even more signs of kindness among the inhabitants of Manhattan's Upper East Side, and its West Village than we noticed during our last visit to the city. The bustle and commerce of the West Village, and the renovation of Chelsea Market (and the awesome transformation of an elevated railway into an urban park) makes me reconsider the merits of capitalism. Here's a picture of me and Seymour Barab, my favorite inhabitant of the Upper East Side.
And here's a photo of me with Seymour's wife, Margie King, my other favorite Upper East Side inhabitant:
Boston and its suburbs have become much more international. What a treat it was to sit in a coffee shop and hear two sets of conversations in two different languages (I understood neither one). New York also seemed a lot more international than I remember it being, and the expansion of the term "International" from the European-dominated 20th-century into the fully global 21st is very exciting.
It also seems that classical radio has improved greatly over the past year. In Ohio and Pennsylvania there were actual live in-house radio announcers, who played interesting music. There was a recording of the Prokofiev Classical Symphony with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Ormandy, and a recording of the Schoenberg transcription of Johann Strauss' "Roses from the South" played by the Boston Symphony Chamber Players (I got to hear my father's famous pa pa coming after each um). There was even some vocal music on the radio: some Byrd performed by Chanticleer, that was on a program that followed Phil Schaap's week-long dissection under a microscope (with lots of repetition) of one day in the life of Charlie Parker (I think it was February 11, 1949). Too bad the Columbia University student who announced the Byrd didn't say anything about the Byrd-Bird connection. Who could pass up a radio moment like that?
Eight things I learned this year:
1. Old friends and old friendships get better with time and age.
2. Places change, and sometimes they change for the better. Progress is often a good thing.
3. Classical radio is still alive and well, and it seems to be sharing an audience with Jazz in some places.
4. Whole Foods makes the most extraordinary baked sesame tofu, and it makes terrific picnic food.
5. It is possible to travel well without stopping in a single fast-food restaurant, as long as you bring a large insulated cooler bag on your journey.
6. It is preferable to travel (as long as the weather is good) without stopping in a single fast-food restaurant.
7. Just because a museum is famous and highly regarded, you can't count on it to exhibit contemporary art that is worthy of the visibility.
8. It really doesn't matter anyway, because so much of New York's art is not found in museums: it's found on the streets and in the people.