I heart NY (a lot)

Highlights only. And even that makes for a long entry!

The Met. Specifically, a special exhibit called Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity. Magnificent! Room after room of paintings by Manet, Money, Dégas, and many others (including Berthe Morisot, who was both painter and artist's model). In each room behind glass cases were articles of clothing—the very dress that the model wore when the artist painted her, or a dress in a similar style, or accessories that were used. It was fascinating and very well curated.

Park Slope. I found out that most local fashion designers and the boutiques that sell their creations are in Brooklyn, so we went in search. Fifth Avenue was a goldmine. We stopped at Flirt, Eidolon, Bhoomki, and a few shops in between, on a cool and breezy but sunny day (not too many of those that weekend). I bought a flower-patterned dress at Flirt that said it was "1 of 6," hand-made locally. Sweetie bought a top and skirt at Eidolon and chatted with the woman who made them. Bhoomki was all about sustainable materials, exactly my thing.

Theatre. We didn't go to the big musicals. We saw The Assembled Parties, which was in previews. It was about two families, more or less Jewish, with the first act set at Christmas 1980 and the second at Christmas 2000. Judith Light played one of the mothers and was brilliant. The story was not especially strong but the characters and dialogue were excellent, and I'm very glad we saw it. We also saw My Name Is Asher Lev, based on the novel of the same name, about a Hassidic boy who has a gift for art in a culture where such pursuits are frowned upon. The young actor who played Asher pushed his own emotions over the top, leaving us little room to feel ourselves, but the two supporting actors, who played multiple roles (parents, Rebbe, art teacher, and more), were very strong. Again, we were very happy to have seen it despite its flaws.

Church. Believe it or not! Sweetie kept saying that she wanted to hear some gospel music, and the Convent Avenue Baptist Church, just a few blocks from where we were staying, had been recommended to us. So that Sunday, Palm Sunday as it happened, we went to a service. The church is a big, beautiful stone structure with stained glass windows—something I didn't think I would see on a Baptist church. I also did not expect to find a big pipe organ. Otherwise, however, the church was designed as I would have expected—a slight rake (like a theatre), a sanctuary but no altar, a place for the choir in front. This place was all about welcoming, right from the start, even though I'm sure they knew these two white women were just tourists (we weren't the only tourists). Not everyone was dressed up, but I would say that most were—suits and dresses and pretty hats. The service started on the pipe organ with a rather solemn hymn, but then the choir director moved to a piano and a drum set was added. That's when we got into the music we had hoped to hear, complete with hand clapping. The pastor's welcome was so warm and full of joy. And of course in a church like this, there is a lot of spontaneous participation by the congregation. If I wanted a church, this one would certainly be inviting.

Anjelika Film Center. Going to New York to watch movies? Sure, when you can see films that you might not otherwise see, and especially when the weather outside kind of sucks. We saw Ginger & Rosa, a new film by Sally Potter, about two teenage girls who are best friends but in the midst of personal changes against the background of the Cuban Missile Crisis. A nuanced, layered film with a superb performance by then 14-year-old Elle Fanning that I would see again. Curiously, several of the previews we saw (we love previews) were of Canadian films! Gotta go to the US to see our own movies. There was the trailer for Midnight's Children, which did play here for a while (and we ought to have seen it). There was a trailer for Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell, which I think has only been at festivals (but more on that in a minute). And among the movies already playing was a comedy from Quebec called Starbuck. I had seen it on a plane a few years ago, but I always wanted Sweetie to see it, so we went. It's about a feckless 40-something, played by the wonderful Patrick Huard, who years before had made a lot of donations to a sperm bank, which subsequently messed up and used his sperm to produce 533 children, 142 of whom filed a class action suit to find out who their biological father was. It's funny, sweet, and touching.

Balaboosta. We were in New York last summer in the midst of a heat wave. We were spending time with Sweetie's uncle and aunt, doing various things. We had been shopping in Nolita, and when we were exhausted the aunt and uncle wanted to try a new restaurant called Balaboosta, a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern restaurant on Mulberry Street. The food was fantastic! In many ways, it reminded us of Chef Chris's food at Green Goddess (now at Serendipity) in New Orleans. Inventive, playful, very flavourful dishes made with local, seasonal ingredients. We were well taken care of by our server. After Ginger & Rosa, I had a notion to see if we could get in for dinner. The restaurant was busy, but we didn't have to wait long for a table. Some menu standards, many seasonal changes, and once again the food was superb, as was the service—by the same server we had last summer! She took great care of us. I'm sure that if we lived in Manhattan we would become regulars there. We want to go back for brunch!

Passover. The Monday evening seder was the main reason we had traveled to New York. The uncle and aunt had invited us last summer when we spent time with them, and we decided that we wanted to go. This was my first seder. We had a wonderful time! The aunt and uncle are two of my favourite people in the world, and we were joined by Sweetie's sister and her wife, the hosts' daughter (Sweetie's cousin), the aunt's sister, brother-in-law, and their daughter, and two couple who were family friends. The ritual was only semi-reverent but still covered the bases, and the dinner itself was wonderful: brisket, turkey, potato kugel, a zippy red cabbage dish, and a green vegetable medley. And then there was a multiple-course dessert, with apple cake, matzo brittle, macaroons, chocolate mousse. and more. Stuffed like the turkey breast!

Harlem. We stayed at the Sugar Hill Harlem Inn in Hamilton Heights. Sadly, a combination of nasty weather and commitments meant that we did not get to see much of Harlem. Nor did we have any soul food! We would definitely stay there again, and next time, we're going to take a walking tour and get our fill of good neighbourhood food.

One more film. We flew home on Air Canada via Montreal. The Air Canada planes used for long flights have screens in the backs of the seats, far better than those drop-down screens that are often too far away. And among the films available? Stories We Tell! It's a documentary that Sarah Polley made about her late mother in an attempt to learn both who she was and who her biological father was. All I can say is that you really ought to see it. Sarah Polley is amazing.

Returning from cold, wind, and rain to spring weather was pretty amazing too!


To do is to be

I follow a variety of people on Twitter. Among them is a large contingent of musical people—bands of which I am a fan and which Lisa's Hotcakes will never play with, individual musicians, and a few other musical folks.

One in the second category is Hether Fortune. It all started with Mish Way, lead singer for White Lung. Mish is someone I met when we both volunteered at Girls Rock Camp Vancouver. She's not really a friend (I have young friends, but most women 30 years younger than me quite reasonably prefer the company of other 20-somethings) but more someone I know and like and chat with when I see her, like when I go to one of her shows. She's also a journalist, and at one point last year she wrote about Wax Idols and her friend Hether. I had never heard of Wax Idols, but I'm always interested in female-led bands and lo-fi music. I downloaded No Future from eMusic. I loved it.

Later, when I started my Twitter account, I followed Hether. She's certainly one of the most interesting parts of my Twitter feed. You just never know what she's going to tweet. Whatever it is, it's usually entertaining. She doesn't follow me, but occasionally she would respond to replies I would send her. She hasn't done so in quite a while, so I don't know if I've offended her or bored her or maybe that she just hasn't felt like replying. She ought to follow me (everyone ought to!), but people follow whom they want.

Hether is only 25 years old and has already released two albums and two singles (that I know of). And that's only since she got booted out of another band and started Wax Idols. She has a record label and a publicist. She tours. She gets interviewed. I'd say she's doing rather well, on the indie scene at least (she says she hates indie bands, but I need some kind of label).

She says she is broke, and I can believe it, but I bet that won't be true for long. The new Wax Idols album, Domination & Desire, is good. Really good. Dense, layered, and challenging. Whereas No Future (which was basically Hether by herself), was a kind of lo-fi surf punk that was somewhat but not hugely different than several other lo-fi bands I like, Domination & Desire draws heavily on early New Wave, or "post-punk" as people tend to call it these days. Hether might hate this, but the verse section of "When It Happens" reminds me of "The Metro" by Berlin. Thing is, I love that song, so I intend no insult by the reference. Still, for all the Siouxsie Sioux comparisons (sometimes Hether does sound like Siouxsie), this record is more about New Wave inspiration than imitation. The songs with their subverted hooks and dissonant layers go far past the 1980s. And yet in a lovely throwback, the album sounds like a coherent whole meant to be listened to as a whole. This is a record that I like already but that will almost certainly grow on me even more as I listen again and again.

Am I envious of Hether? Kind of. But I also admire her. At 25, I was wasting my life in a haze of smoke and dreaming. It wasn't until I was 27 that I put together a real band, and it wasn't until I was in my 30s that I had a band that was actually pretty good and not just quirky. Even then, though, I did not have the focus that Hether obviously has, and none of my musical endeavours came to much. And here I am now, old enough to be her, well, probably much older than her mother anyway, finally doing a much better job of playing and writing and making a band work. Too little too late?

People like to say that it's never too late. Like, for anything in life. That's only partially true, and certainly only true of some things. I can still play and sing and write—curiously, better than I ever did before. I can still play gigs. I could even tour if I wanted to, although to do so I would need another band (Hotcakes will not tour, at least not at this point). Age does not automatically put limitations on me.

But I'd be lying if I said I had the same energy I did the first time around. Sometimes I do have it both mentally and physically, but not always. It's like being in a start-up company. That's fun and exciting when you're young and willing to put that kind of effort into a job, but usually it's not something you want to do when you get older. And yet here I am in the start-up phase of a band.

If it wasn't music, I doubt I'd be able to do it. But for me, music often supplies the energy my mind and body lack. I truly feel decades younger when I get on stage. I thrive in a recording studio. I don't think I ever feel more alive than when I'm making music.

Even if I can work up the energy, will I have the same opportunities I might have had when I was younger? I will never be 25 again. I have to deal with ageism (and sexism) in a business that's notoriously ageist (and sexist). But I will keep at it as long as I can because I have songs to share and a burning desire to communicate through music with anyone who will listen. Wait until you hear our next record!


Sick of it

Hey! Instead of thanking us for #InternationalWomensDay how about equal pay, an end to #everydaysexism & no more rape & FGM? #JustAnIdea
- Journalist Nikki Bayley on Twitter

I'm not sick of International Women's Day. I'm sick of the need for it. I'm sick of having a day that just highlights that every other day is International Men's Day.

Equal pay, an end to everyday sexism, no more rape, and no female genital mutilation. Definitely. But far more than that.

For so long, it seems that the fight was about equal rights. And equal rights are rights under the law. We need that. Everyone needs that, especially those who lack power. But therein lies the real key.

Power. It's about power. Power to shape our own lives. Power to shape the world. Power so that we do not live in fear. Power so that the world becomes a place where the default human being is "human," not "male."

I know plenty of men who would not think of themselves as being in a position of power. But privilege is not personal. It's systemic. Men have privilege, and the power that goes with it, whether they want it or not. The best they can do is to recognize it and work with us to change the situation.

We take power when and where we can. We have made gains. But those with power do not willingly let it go. The best intentioned try to allow us a better place within their power structure. Equal rights, but please don't change anything fundamental. That's not how it works. That's not how it has to work. The power structure has to change, fundamentally. It has to belong to all of us.

I'm sick of waiting. I'm sick of knowing how many women in the world can't even dream of the gains we have made in our society. And more than anything I'm sick of the backlash by those whose power is threatened and who thus feel threatened themselves. It's not your fucking world. It's everyone's world. Isn't it way past time for that become a reality?


Deep roots

As I mentioned earlier, I was brought up Catholic. Shortly after I went to university, my participation fell to nothing. I went through a brief revival as part of the Charismatic Movement, but I have lacked any belief in deities since about my mid-20s. I seem not to have the capacity to believe in things for which there is no evidence.

Nonetheless, I have always been interested in religion, especially Christianity. I've studied the history of Christianity. I am familiar with the theology. I used to belong to a forum for discussion of religion, long after I had stopped believing, only because I found it interesting and intellectually challenging. I did not participate in flame wars. I had civilized discussions even with hard-core Bible-believing Christians. I no longer belong to that forum, but even now I am likely to engage door-knockers, at least briefly. They're usually quite nice people, and I'm nice to them. I politely run rings around them logically, and soon they give up.

With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the first papal resignation in 600 years (the previous one was to help settle a pope-antipope controversy), I've been reading articles about the upcoming papal election and about what people expect of a new pope. I'm always amused by those who think the Catholic Church is going to modernize more than it has already. There seem to be few people outside the Church itself who understand its history and how it operates.

I am also amused by those who characterize the many Reformed churches as "conservative." They are very often conservative socially and politically (in the current sense of the word), but theologically conservative? Not if you know church history.

The most conservative Christian churches today are the various Orthodox churches as well as some of the eastern Catholic churches in communion with Rome. Their theologies emanate from the earliest councils. Their liturgies originate in the second century C.E. They use languages such as Greek, Armenian, and even Aramaic. Very little has changed in these churches for almost 2,000 years.

The Roman Catholic Church is right behind in conservatism. Fundamentally, it's the Latin branch of the original Christian church, with the Orthodox being the Greek branch. Despite the schism, the two branches agree much more theologically than they disagree.

The churches that people call "conservative," and that tend to characterize themselves that way, were born in the Protestant Reformation. The ideas of salvation by faith alone and holding only to the Bible are not conservative ideas. At the time, they were radical. Historically, those churches have a stronger connection to the 16th and 17th centuries than to the early Christian church. In many ways, they are products of the modern world.

There is often speculation about the modernization of the Catholic Church and what that might consist of. After all, we had the Second Vatican Council, right? Didn't that make radical changes? Not really. Changing the language of the liturgy only made sense, since the language was always meant to be understood. It's just that no one speaks Latin anymore. Communion in the hand, revision of the habits of religious people, these things are theologically superfluous. And some of the "modernization" backfired. For its own sake, the Catholic Church should probably have taken a cue from its sister Orthodox churches. The Church strays from its traditions at its peril.

For the most part, the Catholic Church makes only changes that have historical precedent. That is why at some point the Church will allow married men to be ordained but will not allow priests to marry--because until the 11th century, married men could become priests, and indeed have always been allowed to in the more ancient churches. But historically, the Church never allowed priests to marry. That is also why it is unlikely that the Church will ordain women, although I would argue that there is historical precedent for women presiding at eucharistic celebrations. It predates the establishment of a more organized church, however, and I doubt the Catholic Church would go back that far. We shall see. As for birth control, I think the Church will find a way to back down from its current stance. It will continue to teach that being homosexual is not wrong but that sex between people of the same sex is.

If you want conservative, start in the second century, not the sixteenth. And rock the boat as little as possible!