Archive for the ‘ History/Ancestry ’ Category

Another Titanic night to remember

BY: AJ Sabatini 04.13.2012

Originally appeared in Broad Street Review

It was sad (so sad):
The night the Titanic went down, again


It was a night that we would remember, but the people in attendance would like to forget. Especially the hostess.

Dateline: Philadelphia, April 15, 1987. Party to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic in a loft near South Street. The invitations were embossed; the affair— as we found out— included a replication of the final night’s menu: oysters, consommé fermier, cock-a-leekie soup for first courses, a buffet with potted shrimps, round of spiced beef, corned ox tongue. A well stocked bar, champagne everywhere.

The loft was meticulously decorated for the occasion. In fact, the hostess was an artist working as a free-lance set designer and food stylist for local advertising companies. With her artist’s eye and attention to period detail, everything from the sculpted white drapery to cut glass clamshell ashtrays sparkled with the prim elegance of Edwardian First Class comfort.

Guests were invited to dress for dinner and, fully in the spirit, men wore black lapel buffed tuxedos and the women gracefully sipped cocktails in floor-length gowns, their hair coiffed (though the younger, cheekier women made themselves up with Betty Boop curls spiraling onto their cheeks). They swayed to recorded band music— and their dates, mostly what were then called yuppies— waved their ridiculously fat cigars in the air and, as guys unaccustomed to wearing tuxedos, were as puffed up as high schoolers at a prom.

A job audition

One couple actually didn’t receive a formal invitation. That would be my wife Merilyn Jackson and me. We met Lauren, the hostess, a week or so before at the home of a friend where we all drank wine and laughed, as we did a lot back then. She casually invited us to her Titanic party, and we said sure.

Now, some of our friends in those days used to refer us as the Arthur & Merilyn Show. No need to go into specifics, but antics were us. Had Lauren known us better, she might have thought twice about inviting us to what she had planned as a party to show the city’s hot, up-and-coming advertising people what she could do. This Titanic party would be her showcase. If things went well, one of these potential employers might offer her a job.

The party was slated for a Saturday night, and I spent the afternoon going to used clothing stores in search of a tuxedo, which I found for $5 by about 5 o’clock. I also picked up a pair of blue-and-grey striped, heavyweight engineer-style bib overalls, a comically large monkey wrench and a long, thick rope.

Merilyn, a beauty, rested, having already decided on a flapper chic black dress. Our imaginations, sad to say, reached Second-Class level, at best. But, then, what attracted us was the word party, not Titanic.

Water, water everywhere

By 8 p.m. or so, inspiration struck: This soiree was intended to celebrate a sunk ship, or water, water everywhere. So I filled up a few gallon containers with water and steadied them in the trunk of our unreliable chartreuse Fiat.

From Queen Village, Merilyn chauffeured us over to Kater Street, where I took the water out of the car while she parked. I dropped the bib overalls and monkey wrench– along with Deep Down in the Jungle..Negro Narrative Folklore From the Streets of Philadelphia (by the world famous Penn folklorist Roger Abrahams)– in the entranceway to the second story apartment.

From the street, it looked like a grand party was in progress. A neat young couple, dressed like movie extras, nodded to us on their way in. When the coast was clear, Merilyn slipped off her jacket, we tied the rope around my waist and she climbed, other end of the rope in hand, upstairs in her black teddy, as if the sinking ship had interrupted an intimate engagement somewhere above steerage but below the swells.

‘Where’s the dame?’

As we’d planned, Merilyn poured gallons of water over my head, soaking my second-hand tuxedo. As I trailed a few steps behind her, she burst into the party, squealing, “Help! Man Overboard,” while I, lay on my side in a puddle clutching the rope.

The hired mock maitre d’ at the top of the stairs, greeting everyone and finding their name cards, was the first one to widen his eyes in disbelief.

Moments later, dripping wet as a dog after a swim, I scrambled to my feet, shouting, “Where’s the dame? Where’s the dame?” as if completing the scenario whereby Merilyn and I had been rudely interrupted down below and I swept overboard.

It took only a few seconds for us to read the open mouths, turned heads and perturbed raised eyebrows as signs that joking still wasn’t the accepted tone when it came to the subject of what happened that night when the great ship went down.

African-American toast

But the umbrage from the cummerbunds and frowns from the gowns faded quickly and turned to laughter. Lauren greeted us and seemed amused, even if we had possibly sunk her career.

Merilyn quickly slipped back into her jacket and headed for the champagne and canapés.

I, always one to compound disaster with calamity, returned downstairs, picked up the book, bib overalls and monkey wrench, and retreated to the bathroom to change.

Grabbing a bottle of wine, I found a corner. When a few guests drifted over to applaud my role and ask about my costume change, I read aloud the African-American “toast,” Shine on the Titanic (quoted in Deep Down in the Jungle)

A “toast” is what we might call today a rap. It’s a satire based on a character named “Shine,” who supposedly worked in the Titanic’s engine room. Shine repeatedly tries to warn Captain Smith that the ship is sinking but is ignored. At one point he rhymes:

Shine went downstairs, he ate a piece of bread.
That’s when the water came above his head.
He said, “Captain, Captain, I was downstairs eating my bread
And the motherfuckin’ water came above my head.”
He said, “Shine, Shine, set your black self down.
I got 99 pumps to pump the water down.”

‘Let it sink’

Eventually, Shine realizes what’s going on and saves himself. The refrain, “and Shine swam on” in Shine’s euphemistic way of saying, “Let the ship and the people on it sink.”

So I sat with my book, wine and monkey wrench, toasting away in my best mock-Shine style. Lauren looked on from time to time to make sure there wasn’t a third act in our show.

So now it’s the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking and Merilyn and I have just one question: Is anyone out there planning a Titanic party this month?

One more reason to move to Arizona

for Broad Street Review
Posted: 3/10/12

In Warsaw 12 years ago I attended an afternoon concert and afterward dashed across the square to the Teatr Wielki to see if I could get into a Nijinsky Gala on just that one night. The box office was closed, but I stuffed 20-zloty notes into the pockets of two apple-cheeked ushers— “For piwo (beer),” I explained— and they sneaked me in.

The choreographer Emil Wesolowski’s fabulous reconstruction of Nijinsky’s Jeux was just beginning, with Slawomir Wozniak Sr. dancing lead. After Wesolowski’s over-the-top Rite of Spring, I went backstage to meet him.

When each of us exhausted our respective supplies of Polish and English, Wesolowski took me to Wozniak’s dressing room. Still in his dance belt, Wozniak became our interlocutor. Upon hearing his excellent English, I asked if he’d been to the States.

“Oh, every year I go to dance Nutcracker in some place called Phoenix,” he replied.

When I laughed, he asked archly, “I said something funny?”

Oczywiscie (of course),” I explained. “I have a home in Phoenix where my husband teaches, but we’re never there over Nutcracker season.”

The dance world can be as small as it’s grand. Wozniak eventually moved to Phoenix permanently and now is the director of its Master Ballet Academy, where the recent Bolshoi defector David Hallberg trained as a youngster. Wozniak’s sons, now entering their 20s, are dancing with Ballet Arizona.

Sneaking in, again

Now fast-forward 12 years. I was flying from Philadelphia to Phoenix a few weeks ago, planning to see the Trisha Brown Dance Company at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and hoping to see works by Will Bond and Michael O’Connor in Phoenix as well. I’d also hoped to pop in on David Krensing, the former Pennsylvania Ballet principal, who now lives in Tucson but teaches at Ballet Arizona on alternate Saturdays.

But once seated on the plane, when I picked up US Airways Magazine, it opened to a page about Ballet Arizona and its director, Ib Andersen. Lucky me. That weekend Ballet Arizona was dancing Sleeping Beauty, and I immediately changed my plans so I could catch the last show at 5:30 Sunday night.

Yes, Phoenix is still a sleepy town, with just about everything happening an hour or two earlier than we Eastern folks are accustomed to. The State of Arizona was celebrating its 100th anniversary— that is, it’s been around as long as Sleeping Beauty slept.

At the box office, I introduced myself and asked if they could get me in. Once inside, I went to the bank of dancers’ photos to see who was new and whom I might remember from years past. I was happy to see Paola Hartley was still there, dancing that night as Fairy of the Enchanted Garden with her Cavalier, Zherlin Ndudi. The great Astrit Zejnati was still there too.

Familiar faces

I found many new faces since I’d last seen Ballet Arizona. But Ilir Shtylla, an Albanian (like Zejnati) who first danced at Pennsylvania Ballet when he came to the States in 1999, has been with Ballet Arizona since 2003. So the Ballet Arizona boasts a strong core that upholds its institutional memory while bringing in fresh and hungry young upstarts as well.

As I pored over the photos, it was déjà vu all over again as I caught the young faces of two such young upstarts: Michal and Slawomir Wozniak, sons of the dancer I’d met in Warsaw.

In Sleeping Beauty, they performed several roles, with Michal dancing Bluebird the night I saw it, to thrilling heights in his jêtés, but also as an equally thrilling stage presence. The brothers alternated in the Bluebird role on different nights.

It was one of those unforgettable nights in the theater. The newly refurbished Phoenix Symphony Hall’s fantastic acoustics perfectly caught the conductor Timothy Russell’s sparkling reading of the Tchaikovsky score. The sumptuous sets (which filled the huge stage) and costumes were borrowed from the Boston Ballet, via the Royal Ballet circa 1970. The house was almost sold out, with many yummy little girls in gumdrop-like outfits on display.

In a big, story ballet like Sleeping Beauty, all 34 of Ballet Arizona’s dancers had roles. But best of all was Ib Andersen’s faithful yet fresh interpretation of the original 1890 Marius Petipa choreography.

From Taiwan, via Pennsylvania

It’s in the big ballets that Andersen’s light touch and meticulous attention to detail really shine. Even at over two and a half hours (minus intermission), Andersen’s Beauty never put anyone to sleep (other than the court on stage).

On my program, Natalia Magnicaballi, who’s been with Ballet Arizona since 2002, danced the Lilac Fairy and Shtylla played her Cavalier. The exquisite Taiwanese and Pennsylvania-trained Tzu-Chia Huang took command of the stage as Princess Aurora. In Act II, a century later (well, it seemed that way, waiting for him), Zejnati finally appeared as Prince Désiré (yes, can you take the subtlety?).

Zejnati’s pas de trois with Magnicaballi and Huang, after he kisses her awake, gave a taste of the glory to come in his grand pas de deux with Huang. There, his footwork and strength as a leaper contrasted with Huang’s unutterable delicacy and poise. The Wozniak brothers acquitted themselves like true Slavs in the Polonaise/Mazurka finale. I hope I’ll be lucky enough to follow their careers for many years, whether in the East or the West.


Spammer Alert!

Note to Spammers: I am a professional writer with more than 20 years experience. I write every single word that I upload onto my blog and use the blog as a repository for my published work. I would have no need to hire any writers especially at .01 cents per word. What sort of person would write for such peanuts? But you can hire me for $1.00 per word. Merilyn

Posted: Mon, Feb. 13, 2012, 3:01 AM
By Merilyn Jackson
For The Inquirer

                                             P. BROWNING
David and Lindsay Browning, father and daughter, in the dance theater work “Lincoln Luck” at the Painted Bride. The mystical dream sequences have moments of clarity and beauty.

Abe Lincoln had an irksome dream he’d be assassinated just two weeks before he actually was. Dancer Lindsay Browning and her father, actor David Browning, collaborated in a dance theater work, inspired by the dream, titled Lincoln Luck which evoked a dreamlike atmosphere rather than a narrative.

It premiered at the Painted Bride over Lincoln’s birthday weekend with performances Friday and Saturday.

The audience entered through the cafe with David Browning, bearded and in Lincoln dress, inviting us to follow him into the theater. Of course it’s the theater where Lincoln goes to meet his end.

Lindsay Browning is there waiting onstage in a harness and hoop skirt with three long white trains trailing out in different directions. With one red-gloved hand, she waves the air before her, writhing within these confines like a woman possessed. She soon sets herself free and dances to Thomas Wave’s sitar, guitar, and organic sound environment.

The Painted Bride set included three long vertical rectangles for poetic video projections by Gaetan Spurgin. Tommy Burkel is the youngster walking in one, Myra Bazell dances in another. A third featured abstract images.

The lighting by Madison Cario infused the work with a mournful aura that also helped to create its ambiguity. This moody atmosphere sometimes overwhelmed the work, becoming more dominant than the meaning, which was hard to decipher. We were supposed to be viewing Lincoln as a 217-year-old dancing with an imagined daughter in 2026. This did not come through for me in the performance but was merely told to us by David Browning.

Nevertheless, if you took it as a mystical dream and just went with it, it had its moments of clarity and beauty.

When John Luna joins Lindsay Browning in a duet, they swing gold pocket watches on a chain together. Luna takes a walk to and fro, still swinging his watch by its fob, but it pulls him in the opposite direction each time. Is he supposed to be the young Lincoln and is time pulling him back?

David Browning’s soliloquies are lovely, notably the one where Lincoln speculates on what would have happened if he’d had a daughter: “A girl would’ve changed us,” he says, “to dance while bullets rang out.”

He is most charming when he carries in a birthday balloon and what looks like a birthday pie with candles that read 87.

He blows them out, bringing us back from the future to the present, and the lights go out.

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February 9, 2012

By Merilyn Jackson

Few choreographers have the power to effect life-altering changes the way Pina Bausch did over the course of her 50-year career, and, even now, three years after her untimely death. That is what Pina does. She changes your life. She changed mine and she changed the lives of others I know. She altered my life so much, before and still long after I met her, that I have always felt touched, blessed, and saw my own work stretch to a level beyond what I had achieved. I’m even writing a poem about her effect called Pina, Queen of the Desert.

German filmmaker Wim Wenders in a recent NPR interview spoke about the first time he went to a performance by Bausch and her Tanztheater Wuppertal. “I found myself on the edge of my seat, crying like a baby after five minutes, and crying through the entire thing,” he recalled. “I was hopelessly, helplessly crying, and didn’t know what was happening. It was like lightning struck me.” The work? It was Café Müller, from 1985, and he says it changed his life.

Anyone who’s seen the film Pina (I have, three times, in previews in Philadelphia and New York) is struck with wonder, even if they haven’t seen it in 3D. I made a new friend: a German professor teaching in the U.S., he had not known about Bausch, but was so taken by her and the film that he ordered it in Blu-Ray for his university library, yet hasn’t seen it in 3D. I told him he can’t imagine the adrenaline rush of nearly ducking when a sheer curtain flies toward you, a Wuppertalian monorail car feels as if it will run you over, or buckets of water come splashing at you.

To read the remainder of the article:

Posted on Sun, Oct. 23, 2011

Reviewed by Merilyn Jackson

For The Inquirer


Actress, Empress, Whore
A Novel

By Stella Duffy

Penguin. 352 pp. $15 (paperback)

She rose from actress to empress, from prostitute to political powerhouse, as tough an infighter as any man in the labyrinthine Byzantine Empire.

New Zealand native Stella Duffy, who now lives in London, tells the story in Theodora, an evocative historical novel released last year in the United Kingdom and now available in paperback in the United States.

Born about 500, Theodora was the daughter of a bear trainer. Duffy, writing at a quick, cinematic pace, tracks her odyssey from the bowels of the Hippodrome to the imperial palace, where she became the paramour and then the wife of Emperor Justinian I, who by all accounts relied on her judgment.

Some of Duffy’s most vividly imagined passages cover Theodora’s desert conversion to Monophysitism (the belief that Jesus had only one nature, divine, rather than two, human and divine). It was a significant decision in a world where theology and politics walked hand-in-hand and the majority held the two-nature view of Jesus.

In Duffy’s account, Theodora’s conversion takes place during a three-year journey back to Constantinople from Appolonia (in present-day Libya), where a pre-Justinian lover has banished her. She endures the symbolic 40 days and nights alone in a cave. She has visions and delirium and then “she lay in a pool of her own thin blood, the pool spreading rapidly, out and away from her, liquid life pouring away.”

For all the drama of Theodora’s life and all the double-dealing and steamy scenes, Duffy leaves the reader eager for the full story of the rule of the Augusti, the royal couple, but her novel ends with their marriage and coronation. Duffy promises a sequel that will no doubt deal with Theodora’s key role in the brutal suppression of an uprising against her husband in 532, along with the intrigues, earthquakes, plagues, wars, the rebuilding of the great church, Hagia Sophia, and its costs and Theodora’s death in 548.

As Duffy presents her, Theodora combines warring characteristics that alloy into a mettle greater than that of any man of the era. She was ambitious, unscrupulous, wily, but also loyal and compassionate.

Justinian, known as a ravenously intellectual student and lawmaker, is remembered for issuing the Corpus Juris Civilis, the Body of Civil Law. In Duffy’s portrayal, he is a tireless scholar king and Theodora’s ardent and loyal lover.

Duffy cites more than a dozen sources on Theodora from the last several decades. If ever there was a woman whose power, reputation, and stature in history demand the same fascination as Cleopatra, it’s Theodora. Duffy leans most heavily on the elegantly written biograpohy Theodora: Empress of Byzantium (2004), by Paolo Cesaretti, and on the historian Procopius’ Wars of Justinian and his savage Secret History, which reveals his distaste, if not his hatred, for Theodora, his contemporary.

Lately, Duffy has taken some Internet heat for her use of profanity. When it comes from the mouths of former brothel acquaintances, or even Theodora’s own, it rings with authenticity. But the author repeatedly drops the F-bomb as a kind of shorthand for making love. In the passages on Theodora’s pre-Justinian life, it sounds merely lazy. This becomes more grating when she writes about the imperial couple making love. Accounts of their union show it to have been loving and respectful. One of Justinian’s laws proclaimed, “Marriage does not consist in sexual relations, but in conjugal affection.”

Duffy succeeds best with the dialogues she creates between Justinian and Theodora. They are simple, but intimate and caring. After the death of his uncle, the Emperor Justin, Justinian feels orphaned. He asks Theodora, “It is just me now, isn’t it?” She responds, “In the purple?” And he says, “With you beside me.”

Perhaps in the sequel, Duffy will reimagine and eroticize their lovemaking. As a historical narrative, her book is racy and informative, but her unmelodious and dry style is unbefitting a ruler so juicy.

Merilyn Jackson writes on dance, books, and food for the Inquirer and other publications. Her blog is

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Ode to Pork

A couple of Christmases ago, before the Swine Flu outbreak, I gave a foodie friend a book from Italy, Pigs and Pork. Coincidentally, I unwrapped the same book from my husband.  He knows my love for the flesh and skin of pig – not the kind you pass and kick, the kind you slow roast to a snap and a pop of the crackling. The book’s slightly skewered translation says scratchings for what I take to mean cracklings. And the title — how does one separate the pig from the pork? After all, Pigs R Pork.

The book says there are approximately 960 million pigs in the world, roughly a third of them in China. Europe has 243 million and the United States only 95 million. Boiled Pig’s Cheek with Garbanza Beans is just one of the book’s recipes I have yet to make. But now that we’re getting succulent pork dishes in restaurants like Chifa and Lolita, I may not take the time.

In Chinese astrology, I’m a goat and my most compatible match is the pig. Alas, I am married to a rat. But he must have ascendant pig qualities:  nice to a fault, they delight in eating good food and lovemaking, believe in the best qualities of humankind, are highly intelligent, and make wonderful life partners due to their hearts of gold and love of family.

Not only is pork the other white meat, pig is featured in fairytales, cartoons, the Babe movies. Philly’s most celebrated theater company calls itself Pig Iron Theater. And New York’s redoubtable Mabou Mines, does an off-off Broadway production Ecco Porco. Actor Frederic Neumann starred as Gonzo Porco. About a pig by that name, the play runs four hours – enough to roast a suckling in time for an aftermath party.

After seeing the play in the East Village one brittle January night, we found Col Legno’s cozy room still open. We warmed up not far from the brick oven where they bake quail, pizza, and white beans with sage in glass flasks.

I have eaten wild boar throughout Eastern Europe where it is still available in butcher shops and featured on the menus of fine old hotel restaurants. Its musty taste surprised me and reminded me of the deep tones of the marrow sauces of my childhood. In honor of Gonzo, we ordered Col Legno’s Pasta with Wild Boar sauce – a Bolognese with finely chopped boar and sage.

Zimne Nogy (literally, cold feet) is pickled pig’s feet — Souse to y’all. You can go into a bar in Poland and order “binoculars and jellyfish” — two shots of vodka and a small plate of Zimne Nogy. Although I would not eat the stuff as a kid, I now ferret it out wherever I go. Krakus Market in Port Richmond prepares the best I’ve had locally. But I adore the Crispy Pig’s feet at Cochon.  And I’m heading up to Northern Spy in the East Village soon as I can to try their shredded pig’s feet wrapped around mustard greens, breaded, then fried!

On cold winter Sundays, my family’s favorite was a huge (and cheap) fresh ham, slow cooked until it fell apart. Pepper, salt, garlic, and maybe ginger or cloves, made up the limited palette of spices in the Polish “Kuchnia.” It was always good enough to eat like Guinea islanders, who, normally vegetarian, annually binge over a three-day feast on the pigs that ferret out their root veggies.

Once, after a visit to Taller Puertoriquenno up at 5th and Lehigh, we stopped into a Puerto Rican restaurant down the street. I looked over the unfamiliar menu, unsuccessful in my attempts to wrest meaning from our surly waiter, who, it later dawned on us, had feigned insufficiency in the Queen’s English.

Cuchifritos are crisply fried pork parts that include ears, tails, and stomach. I used to get them from K-Rico Bakery in Phoenix and they were mouthwatering. Since I’ll eat anything fried, when the word Cuchifritos popped out, I ordered it.

The waiter crooked his eyebrow, smirked, and bowed as he wheeled away to the kitchen.  Shortly, he placed before me a plate of what looked like lukewarm, undoctored, off-brand baked beans with wilted, pasty-looking triangles poking through here and there. He stood at attention, waiting for me to dig in. The first rubbery bite was undistinguishable from an old girdle.

“Do you know what you are eating, Senora?”  I smiled weakly, trying to chew as he hastened to tell me. “Pig’s ears.”

I offered a taste to Herb, a non-practicing Jew, who, nevertheless, does not eat pork. He declined.

“Oh, well, would you mind bringing me the chicken like his and wrapping this up to go?  My husband will love it,” I said with a wink at Herb.

Herb told me a story about a man in Israel who needed a new heart valve, and how the rabbis, after much Talmudic discussion, decided to approve the use of a pig’s valve. Since pigs, like us, are omnivorous and have similar tissue makeup, we use them in medical research. I asked if he’d heard about the researchers’ latest fear, that, like the transfer of the HIV virus from animal to human, something similar could happen with pigs.

“Well,” Herb began after asking the waiter to pack the remains his chicken, “that came from eating monkey. So, if the same hasn’t yet happened from eating pig all these millennia, maybe it’s OK – even though I still wouldn’t.”

At home I placed my foam carton on the counter and turned to read the mail. My husband rummaged behind me. “What did you bring me?”

“Oh, just some leftovers.”

“Well, this is really fall-apart delicious. Best I’ve had.”

I spun around.  The pig’s ears had turned into something other than a silk purse. As I watched my husband tucking into Herb’s chicken, I pictured Herb opening his carton tomorrow. Oink vey!


Horrible.  Rain again.  Found out yesterday my xray of last week shows I have a fractured kneecap from a fall more than a month ago.  I’m supposed to stay off of it.  OK, starting next week. On my way to review I Think I Ken, take my rental car back to the airport.  (This is not Enterprise.)  They’ve lost my records, can’t give me a receipt or release the hold on my credit card.  I make a stink.  They do it, but I miss my train back into town from the airport.  Finally at Market East I get a cabbie from Nairobi who insists on slowing down at the green lights even though he knows I’m in a hurry.  I jump out and run the rest of the way to the National, refusing to pay him.  At the National showroom the volunteer won’t let me in.  NO LATE SEATING ALLOWED.  I tell her to tell @dance why they didn’t get a review.  Before I leave the building, someone grabs me and they take me in.  Another reviewer tells me it got better since I arrived.  Show’s good.  Jokes fly faster than you can catch them.  Barbie tells Kira, the “Oriental” doll “You can’t drive,”  and I laugh louder than anybody cause I just yelled that at the cabbie.

Go to St. George’s for a Relache piece by Joe Kasinskas, a favorite composer of mine.  It’s last instead of first and we must sit through an excrutiating half hour of the Taylor/Madof Acoustic Trio — supposedly partly structured and partly improvised.  But I’ll be dadblamed if I could tell the difference.  I had shingles on my forehead 15 years ago and their music reactivated it.

Go to Cabaret with Jack D.  G Rich sings some songs and asks for a smoke machine.  Deborah and Diane get Camels (the venue’s sponsor — hey there were no kids there) and get down on their knees, puffing away.  I lean over to Diane and say, “Boy, Deborah really will do anything for her job.”  Diane says “Yeah but that’s her boyfriend.”  I say, “So, I guess she’s not just blowin’ smoke.”


I drive by Findings on my way to a poet’s spoken word performance (she doesn’t want to call it poetry) My Life As a Dog. Findings will be open late and they’ll hold the head for me. The  poet reads a poem about her dog who gives a hat mold as a gift to its shrink. I nearly choke.  Afterwards we are going to see Brian Sander’s Patio Plastico, but I drag her down Race Street first. “Where are you taking me?” she asks protestingly. I pull her along like she was my dog on a leash. “You’ll see and you won’t believe it,” I say, “Just wait.” Inside, I hold the head/hat mold triumphantly aloft and announce “Arthur’s birthday present,” while she howls with laughter. I lay my dickering plans aside when Mel offers me the head at the top dollar price I was willing to pay for it.

Off with the head, we bump into my daughter and son-in-law, who are dumfounded when we show it to them. We dump the head in the trunk of my car before cutting over to Patio Plastico.  Sanders’ has recycled two-liter soda bottles as shoes for his dancers. What a whooshing noise they make. Eerie.


Hurricane Floyd floods the streets with debris. Fringe organizers are frantic. Should they cancel? They decide no. I am reviewing Tere O’Connor Dance at 7pm.  Can I make it downtown in time? Kelly (still the East River Drive to me) Drive is closed and the Surekill is at a crawl. I decide I can get into town via Ridge Avenue and down through my old Fairmount neighborhood. At Ridge and Midvale I commit the driving sin I most hate — gaper gawking, rubbernecking, call it what you will — but the river has come almost up to Ridge Avenue and up to the chins of the traffic lights on the drive. In my whole life in Philly, I’ve never seen anything like this!

Though the winds are still high, the rain has died down to a spit. I wind through Fairmount around 2601 and cut over to Spring Garden where I park in my secret spot and walk down Second Street. (Despite the wind I detour past Findings to get my head, but the hurricane has kept it and many other shops and restaurants closed.)

The show goes on to a sparse audience. Wimps, I call the no-shows. Meanwhile, O’Connor’s six terrific dancers engulf the stage with tears and laughter.

The Painted Bride won’t comp me to see Danny Hoch, and on freelance wages I can’t afford a ticket. I pop down to Serrano for a beer and a bite at the bar before deciding whether to go home and write my review or see something else.  Sean is the new bartender there. Jude, one of the owners, introduces us. We get to talking. Turns out he’s the composer for a dance concert called Crush, on at 9:30. I rush over to National to see if its worth adding a sentence or two to my already circumscribed five inch review space. Hmm, sampled drum and bass type stuff (in my book usually not what I would call composing) but the choreography and dancing of Kate Watson-Wallace are terrific to take in and so is Rebecca Sloans harness work inside a strobe lit box. Very David Parsons a la Caught, but the box takes it to another dimension. I try to fit something into my review, but O’Connor gets all my space.


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