I Love New York

Where once in a while, I get homesick.

Radnor Lake is a Walker’s Paradise

Radnor Lake in September.

Radnor Lake in September.

Although I seem to be catching feelings for Nashville, there are things that make me downright homesick for New York. One of these is walking. New Yorkers are a fit breed. We stroll through parks, power walk to work, and climb subway steps two at a time. Some of us even voluntarily stand on the subway.

I’ve always found that activity breeds more activity, so I would forgo the subway for a bike ride across the Brooklyn Bridge to work, run the Prospect Park loop a few times a week, and actually pay to go to the gym in the winter. This extra curricular walking is just that, extra; but nothing beats the simple necessity of getting to where you’re going as quickly as possible.

After living in Nashville for a year, I realized I had been in a fitness slump. If you’re thinking of moving here, let it be known: it’s not really a pedestrian city, or a biking one at that. Some would argue that point, and there are people who use bikes as their primary mode of transportation, but I feel like every time I turn around there’s a “Share the Road” article running about some law-abiding biker getting hit by an impatient motorist. After complaining on Facebook for a while, a friend inspired me to seek out places to walk, and what do you know. I found nature.

Radnor Lake and its 1,332 acre-park is just 15 minutes south of WeHo. It has six trails of varying difficulty and a pedestrian road that circles half the lake where you can run, bike, and walk your dog. A full loop around is about 2.5 miles. I’ve done the Lake Trail, which was good power walking because it’s mostly flat and offers a pretty view. I really liked the Ganier Ridge Trail though. It’s hilly and often narrow, which kept my heart rate up and my New York legs pumping.

This time of year, the view can’t be beat. Living in any city makes you appreciate getting out of it, and that’s just what I needed. Afterwards, my head is clearer, my anxiety level is lower, my fears are at bay (and the science agrees!). What I like the most about walking there is something very unlike New York: I appreciate the quiet interactions with other walkers, the little nods and smiles that amount to an acknowledgement, as if to say, Yes, it’s a beautiful day, and we are walking.

Trail Map from radnorlake.org

Trail Map from radnorlake.org

Dispatch from NY: Queen of the Night

“I lost my boyfriend,” I said to the man. He had just completed two backflips, landed in the lap of another man, and pirouetted over to me to get his jacket, which I was somehow holding.

“Forget about him. Do you know why I chose you?” His eyes were a deep blue, defined by black eye liner and glitter. He took my hand. He smelled like sweat, like lavendar.

“No,” I heard myself say.

“I chose you because you’re beautiful,” he said, and drew a small capital Q on my hand, right above my thumb. “You’ll find out what this means later.”

“There are a lot of beautiful people here,” I said.

“Not like you.” He gave the palm of my hand a final stroke and took an arabesque, dancing away. I had no time to reflect: a woman in a nude bodysuit was hanging upside down from a trapeze, three feet away.

Image courtesy of Wall Street Journal.

Image courtesy of Wall Street Journal.

Such spontaneous, intimate interactions are part of the Queen of the Night experience. It’s a variety show, a ball, and a rock ‘n roll ballet. It’s a gymnasium, a burlesque performance, an opera, and a feast. Frequently mentioned with Sleep No More, Punchdrunk’s expansive, acclaimed adaptation of MacBeth, Queen gives viewers an immersive theater experience like no other. It’s set in Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe Supper Club in the Paramount Hotel’s basement, which brought theater go-ers song, dance, and pleasure in the ’40s. The theater, while lavish, has a decayed quality about it. Producer Randy Weiner told Vanity Fair, “The paint’s peeling, the walls are chipped, the floor has scuff marks all over it. That’s a feeling we really wanted to retain. It’s the feeling I had when I walked into this space, going down this empty place that feels almost haunted because of all the history.”

Image courtesy of Zagat.

Image courtesy of Zagat.

The stage is truly the entire room, from the hanging trapezes to the center podium to your dinner table, where cast members will land, dance, and intertwine. Every detail is choreographed, every corner carefully set. The door knobs are iron hands that reach for your own. A butler asks you to turn your chair around, just in time for three cast members to deposit a woman into your lap. Around the corner, you find a naked woman shaving her legs in a milk bath. The show itself has a simple yet engaging narrative arc (very loosely based on Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”), but the plot is really secondary to the drama of live performances of skilled acrobats, ballerinas, and vaudevillian stars and starlets. For dinner, your table will be served lobsters from a cage, a whole suckling pig on a spit, or beef ribs. You’ll be told to trade with other tables, which makes for some fun bartering. A steam-punky bar can be found in the back to keep you sated, but I recommend not getting drunk — it’s too likely you’ll miss something.

Image courtesy of NY Post.

Image courtesy of NY Post.

The whole idea behind this immersive theater is to push patrons past their comfort zones — but not so far that they feel uncomfortable. They’re aiming for a sweet spot you find when you take a leap and do something that scares you — a roller coaster ride, for example, or performing on stage — and which proves to be totally worth it. The performers convince you that you are special, important even, that they are there for everyone but are really there just for you. The final act is something you personally take part in, and I won’t spoil it. A staff member told us that there is an entire floor of rooms above the banquet hall that we didn’t even see. Cast members escort guests at random, and they might ask you to tell your deepest secret, or give you a love letter written to you by your own mother. Yes, they’re that thorough. 011514Queen9TB

Some advice: dress up. An inside source told us that patrons who are dressed sharp get more attention. You’ll also feel much more like you’re part of it if you look great. I wore a black cocktail dress and heels, and my partner donned a black suit and tie; it was perfect. Don’t stick by the bar during the first hour when you’re told to “explore” and “mingle.” Be bold, wander around, don’t be afraid to lose the other people in your party for a bit: you’ll find each other later. If you’re a vegetarian, don’t fret. Just grab a waiter or cast member and let her know when the food is brought out. You’ll be guided to the veggie table for some yummy mushroom risotto and gigantic cauliflower. Most of all, don’t try to have a plan. Be curious and open doors. You might end up in the kitchen, like we did, but the cast will gently guide you out.

Image courtesy of NY Post.

Image courtesy of NY Post.

All of this doesn’t come cheap, as you may expect of New York City. It’s $140 a ticket, but considering you get fed (quite literally!) and the show lasts three hours, it’s really worth it. (And people will pay $60 for dinner-theater at Chaffin’s Barn in Nashville for high school musical-quality entertainment, so please, suck it up and go!)

Just like a high thrill roller coaster ride, as soon as it was over, I thought, “I want to do it again!” One beauty of interactive theater is that every time will be different, so theater go-ers can delight again and again and again.

On my way to the subway, my boyfriend and I talked about whether something like this will ever make it to Nashville. (We experienced Chaffin’s earlier this summer, with some dismay.) “No,” I say, “too scandalous.” “And not enough theater-people,” he agrees. Which is why I’ll always love New York.

 

 

Dispatch from Brooklyn

I’m in New York. Here’s what I see.

Brooklyn Museum is hosting a retrospective of Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei that has left me numb for days. For two decades, Ai Weiwei’s multidisciplinary art has been a critical, subversive voice in Chinese culture. Brooklyn is showing forty of his works including photography, sculpture, film, installation, and carpentry, the first of these easy to miss, even though you’ll walk by it as you enter the museum. These pieces called “S.A.C.R.E.D” show the narrow world of his detainment when in 2011 he was held by Chinese authorities for criticizing the government’s stance on democracy and human rights. Ai was held for 81 days and was struck on the head by police so forcefully that it caused a brain hemorrhage. You can see the x-ray at Ai Weiwei: According to What? through August 10.

Background: Ai Weiwei smashes Hahn Dynasty vase. Foreground: Painted Hahn Dynasty vases.

Background: “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn.”  Foreground: “Painted Vases.”

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“Moon Chest”

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“Straight.”

His “Citizen’s Investigation” catalogues nearly 5,000 school children who were killed in the 2008 earthquake. Unwilling to answer questions about the schools which so easily collapsed, the government procrastinated in releasing the names of the dead, sweeping them under the rug. Their lives were not only rubbed out, but their names nearly forgotten. Ai Weiwei lists their names, addresses, and schools along a massive wall, and a recording of volunteers speaking the names continuously plays with quiet insistence. Ai sifted through the schools’ wreckage with his team, many of whom were detained in the process, collecting the rebar steel rods that did not manage to protect the children inside. They straightened them, one at a time, and laid them out in varying heights like a blanket. They form a structure that is 20 feet wide and 58 feet long. Ai calls this piece “Straight.”

There’s so much more to see in this exhibition, and even more to explore online — Ai Weiwei’s online activism is a rabbit hold worthy of exploration.  Tony Youngblood took these fantastic photos of the exhibit.

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“China Log.”

Installation in lobby of Brooklyn Museum.

“Stacked.” Installation in lobby of Brooklyn Museum.

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