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January 11th, 2018 — I Am Amsterdam In India
Well, yesterday I slept 12 hours, but today after 5, my body said “nope, no more”. I’m taking this jet-lag as a sign that I should get up and get this trip recap done so I can enjoy my weekend in Boston participating in my 21st MIT Mystery Hunt more. Before I start, a reminder that The Diamond as Big as the Ritz Studio Cast Recording is currently available for downloading and streaming on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and more! Go listen/purchase today!
Especially for this vacation, I highly recommend my 1,281 pictures which I posted and captioned on the Facebook yesterday. I will send highlights to those of you not on Facebook as a supplemental email.
SUNDAY, 12/31, TIME TO DEPART
As usual, I will be doing my trip chronologically. As I sent a ledger a few weeks ago at the end of last year, I won’t have my usual entertainment sections. The book I read on my trip was “The Twenty Seventh City” by Jonathan Franzen. I have read every other one of his novels, but his first. Sadly, his first is his worst (much like that popular children refrain). It was good in parts, but overall, not my favorite. Regardless, I’m glad to have checked it off. My OCD makes me do things like read the complete works of a person or add the 2 photos to the Facebook album that didn’t upload, and then spend 20 minutes getting them in the correct order, and doing a trip recap even though I am exhausted and trying to set everything up for the spring showcases.
Anyway, since flights were way cheaper on New Years Eve, I decided to make that the start of my trip. Unfortunately, I had to flight out of Newark, which is not the most fun to get to. Usually I would take the cheaper route of the PATH train to the Newark local bus, but given the holiday, I didn’t trust buses. So, I went to Penn Station and got a $13 trip. Sadly, the conductor took my ticket, even though I needed the bar code for the Newark Airport Air Train. This means I had to spend an unexpected $5.50 to get on the train. Very upsetting, I know! And I only had $20’s b/c I brought exact change for the NJ Transit machine, and rather than get 18 $1 coins back, I used my credit card. Ew, I know. Whatever.
I zoomed through security, had 2 hours to kill at the airport, and then boarded the plane. The first flight was uneventful. I sat next to a really nice woman who works for an animal shelter, so we had some nice conversation. The movies I watched on the plane were all very good: Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spiderman: Homecoming and Goodbye Christopher Robin, which was about A.A. Milne and his son. I highly recommend all 3.
MONDAY, 1/1, 24 HOURS IN AMSTERDAM
When we landed, it was already the 1st, 1AM in NYC, 7AM in Amsterdam. Actually we got in early at 6:45, so I was able to get through customs, go to an ATM, and get to my hotel shuttle for the 7:20 instead of the planned 8. I dropped my bags at the hotel, got directions into the city on my way earlier than anticipated. Unfortunately, the train machine would not accept my credit card (American cards seldom work in Europe, I find) and only took coins, not bills. So, I had to walk back to my hotel to get change. I lost about 20 minutes, but I was running earlier than I had expected, so it was okay. The train was pretty straightforward, but when I got out I was confused what to take. The hotel guy mentioned 2/5, but I thought that meant train track. However, he meant take Tram 2 or 5, not train. I’m not sure if he said it wrong or I just heard it wrong from his accent. Regardless, I asked someone at the Metro what to do, and she said Tram not subway. The 2 Tram wasn’t actually running for some reason, but I waited 15 minutes for the 5 while I took pictures of where I was.
I’m happy to have taken a Tram ride. It was a charming town to be driven through and helped me get my bearings. Also, that machine didn’t even take coins, but thankfully the conductor took cash. It was 3 euros for the tram (it had been 11 for the roundtrip train).
Amsterdam is a lovely city. There are pretty canals everywhere and looks of bridges. It was chilly and a bit windy, especially early in the day, but certainly not as cold as NYC was that week. I got off at the Rijksmuseum stop, and instantly saw the “I Amsterdam” sign which I think you’re supposed to read I Am Amsterdam since the Am is in different letters from the Sterdam… I didn’t realize how popular it was because that early in the day (9:15) it was fairly deserted. I was able to get a picture with the full sign! (When I left the museum, it was so mobbed, you couldn’t get any pictures at all without other people in it.)
The Rijksmuseum was fairly empty at 9:15, but by 11 got pretty full. It was a really lovely museum filled with wonderful art, and it took me almost 2.5 hours to finish. Though, I did take a tea break. I was lucky that at 11 a little cafe opened up, and the woman was nice enough to give me hot water for free, which I put in a teabag I brought from home. Having tea around 11 was enough to get me through bedtime.
Anyway, the Rijksmuseum gave me a map, and I saw everything, but made sure to take pictures of all the highlighted stuff. In addition, as usual, I took pictures of anything with a cat, cow, piano or chess (and even a backgammon set). There was a bit of confusion at this museum because a lot of the stairs are on either sides of the main hall. The floors don’t connect to each other completely, so I had to constantly go to the second floor to hit everything. Also, when I thought I was done, I found a whole section in the Philips Wing including the Asian Pavilion.
One of the staff told me I should hit the 2nd floor first, so I did that. There was a large set of rooms called the Gallery of Honour and that is where the most popular stuff was. I’m glad I hit it first because it was much more crowded even a half hour after I was there. There I saw some Vermeer paintings (Little Street & The Milkmaid) and Rembrandt’s “The Jewish Bride” and the very large, very famous “Night Watch”. On the first floor, there were 3 Van Gogh, who I think is probably my favorite painter now (sorry George Seurat).
Speaking of Van Gogh, his museum was my next stop. The Van Gogh Museum is incredibly popular, and I had to get my tickets weeks in advance. This allowed me to skip the huge stand-by queue, though! Before my time to go in (1pm), I got an “I Amsterdam” magnet for 4 Euro. And then I saw a whole bunch of cute magnets for 2 Euro right next to the official store I was at. Oops! Thankfully, I never saw the same magnet I got, so I think it was exclusive at least. I also grabbed some quick lunch at a food cart – just a cheeseburger, but it was yummy.
The Van Gogh museum was EPIC. Unfortunately (or fortunately because I could actually enjoy it since I probably would’ve taken a picture of everything), they don’t allow photos. However, so many people were taking them anyway, that I took one myself. Just one. But of the sunflower painting, which is the most renowned. Every single person was doing it, so I jumped off the bridge and did it, too. The museum had 4 floors, all filled with Van Gogh. There were also paintings of people who inspired him or he tried to emulate, as well as a room of people he inspired. The first floor was all his self-portraits, and then it was mostly chronological, getting into his later stuff on the top floors. Van Gogh’s style changed vastly over the years, as he was very influenced by other people. There was Seurat and a Monet, and then you could see his paintings that were in those styles. Van Gogh was very prolific, and painted almost nonstop, which is why there is so much work even though he committed suicide so young.
In particular, he painted a lot of flowers (sunflowers, irises) and orchards, which were quite vibrant, but also chairs and he went through a peasant phase (“The Potato Eaters”). He did a bat or a “Flying Fox”. Also, portraits, views of where he was (The Yellow House artist colony he set up, Paris, the gardens of his asylum) and lots of water and seascapes.
Also, the museum had some iPads with lessons on how Van Gogh painted using gridlines for perspective or painting over old works. The museum also has 820 letters he wrote his brother in their collection. All of his art was left to his sister-in-law after his brother died, and then his nephew sold it all to the city of Amsterdam.
No one knows why Van Gogh cut off his ear besides the fact he was mentally ill, but apparently he had a fight with Gaugin around then. He did a portrait of Gaugin’s chair at some point, so I guess they made up?
Van Gogh’s paintings are dynamic, vivid, vivacious, the emotions drip off the canvas, and I was just in awe of his brilliance being there. You can get lost completely glaring at his work. It was definitely a highlight of my trip to spend a few hours with it.
After that, I took my time walking over to the Anne Frank House. Amsterdam is a lovely, beautiful city to walk through. I even passed through the Hirsch passage on my way. I had also gotten my Anne Frank tickets way in advance; they were very strict about time, so I couldn’t get on line till 5 minutes before my assigned time (4pm). Again, there were no pictures allowed, which was good so I could really experience it. I did take a picture of the outside and of her statue in the plaza on the side of the building. There was an audio guide that you listened to on your way up and down from the annex where Anne and her family lived, but in the actual residence area, you just experienced it.
I read Anne Frank’s Diary in seventh grade, and the work has always stayed with me, so I was glad to finally pay my respects to her. Going up to the resident, there was a lot of documents on their life before the word, including a postcard sent to Anne’s aunt saying they were all going to be fine signed by all of the family. The stairs were incredibly steep, and the rooms were very small. I cannot imagine being trapped there for long. Although the attic where she went so often was closed, you can still feel her spirit in her room.
Coming down, there were original copies of some diary pages on display. Apparently, they had announced on the radio they wanted people to keep journals for publishing after the war, and she started to rewrite the diary and self-edit, so there were copies of that version, as well. And it makes it clear she would have been happy to know her diary was published. There were also copies of all the death cards of the occupants, since the Germans kept such good records, which were chilling to see.
Before the exit, there was a large movie projected where famous people such as Natalie Portman, Whoopi Goldberg, Nelson Mandela, John Green, etc, discussed Anne’s legacy.
Afterwards, I walked through Dam Square, which is basically Times Square, and made my way to the Red Light District. Before I got there, I stopped off for a waffle with chocolate and fruit (healthy, right?) because it looked too good not to eat. I also had a slice of pizza. Thankfully, my navigation skills are top-notch, and although I wasn’t quite sure where I was, I asked the guy at the cafe, and he was like make the next left. So, I was pretty good at steering myself.
The Red Light District had, you guessed it, red lights. I did see a few actual prostitutes in windows, but I was actually there for the Museum of Prostitution because it got great reviews. I came out of it with a little booklet that actually has everything that was on the walls, so anyone who is interested, come over and read it!
The museum itself was quaint and a little underwhelming. They had an audio tour included, and a woman named Inga told us stories of her life. There were many facts about legal prostitution on the walls. And there were displays of things like beds and an S&M room, where you could strap yourself up. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone to take my picture in the room, so I didn’t bother, though I did lock myself in the jail for a bit and take a selfie there. They had a test at the end, and I only got 7/12 which means I was pretty tired at that point. On the way out, you could write your dirty secrets anonymously, and there was a wall of the craziest stories ever! Since my life is pretty much an open book, I couldn’t think of any secrets, but I was happy to take pictures of some of the other people’s.
I walked back to the train station in the rain (glad I packed my umbrella), which was quite close. I literally walked back on the path the Tram had taken me to the Museum row, with a few detours. I missed a train by 2 seconds since I lingered to take photos (I didn’t actually know the times of the train), so I had to wait 20 minutes. I got back to my hotel, fell asleep very quickly around 8:30PM and got up at 5AM the next day. (Sleeping 3:30PM-11PM in NYC time after staying up all night.)
TUESDAY, 1/2, TRAVEL DAY
The first hotel shuttle to the airport was at 5:40, so even though my flight was at 7, I took that. They had free breakfast at my hotel, which wasn’t completely set up, but the kind woman gave me a bag and I filled it with bread stuff (croissants, muffins) after eating a bowl of fruit salad. The airport was far more crowded on the 2nd than the 1st (wonder why #sarcasm), so I really was pushing it. And it was a large airport, so I ran like the wind to get to the security (thankfully had the boarding pass on my phone) and then to the terminal. Amsterdam has a very high level of security, and I guess since my umbrella was still a little wet, I got stopped for a bit. Thankfully, I still got to the gate just as boarding commenced. I don’t like Lufthansa airlines very much. The seats were incredibly cramped. The guy next to me was coughing a lot, and I was really uncomfortable. I was on that flight to Munich for an hour, then had a 4 hour layover at Munich Airport, which was quite nice. I found a comfortable chair and caught up on crosswords. I then took my flight to India, and watched Girls Trip (mildly funny), Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (I really liked it, though the leads had no chemistry; also, I fell asleep for a bit, so I ended up rewatching parts of it), and Despicable Me 3 (cute).
Arriving at India I was greeted by the worst air I have ever breathed. It was thick, smoky and foggy. I accidentally drank from the water fountain without thinking, and thought I was going to die, but thankfully didn’t. (I mean, the airport should probably have filtered water since so many International people go through it daily). I had a snafu at the ATM when I tried to take out 100,000 rupees instead of 10,000 (math error was my fault), but then realized my error. It’s fortunate it didn’t let me take out so much! Oops! I got into a cab to take me to Unnati’s mother’s and then went straight to sleep.
I’m going to take a break from my chronology to just talk about India. When deciding where to go for the first week of the year, when I know everything is dead in NYC, I just wanted to go someplace warm with free housing. My friend, Unnati, who I had met randomly in NYC when she was visiting from India and then became close to had been trying to get me to visit for awhile. I decided it was the right time, especially after she suggested I do a city on the way like Amsterdam. My high school friend, Huy, had just been to Amsterdam, and after looking at his pictures and hearing about the Van Gogh Museum (and already having had the Anne Frank House on my list of things to visit for years), I was like I’m totally doing that. I was able to find a $1200 flight ticket that did 24 hours there on the way, and then my mind was set.
I actually stayed at Unnati’s mother’s house because it had more guest rooms. I want to publicly thank both Unnati and her mom and their entire family and staff for hosting me, while I’m talking about them. It was super nice, and I am so appreciative to have gotten to explore a whole new culture thanks to them.
Speaking of the house, since it is usually really hot out, all the houses in India are designed to be cool inside. So in the few months of winter, it is actually colder inside than outside. There is no central heating, but there are heaters in each room, so I was warm in my own room. Also, every toilet in India has a little shower spout next to it. I’m not sure if that is to clear yourself or the toilet? Oh, also, there are water heaters, so you have to actually turn it on, wait for the water to heat, and then shower. If you forget to turn it on, the water will be very cold.
Unnati’s mom has a staff of five, and Unnati has a staff of three. The first thing I had to get used to was this class system. While here, I’d find it completely weird to have people living in my abode ready to do whatever I need them to, in India it’s perfectly normal. Also, they have a driver for everywhere they go. Originally, I thought I’d just take public transportation places or at least walk part of the way from thing to thing. That proved impossible. Walking in India is not fun, and crossing the street is downright scary. I would’ve loved to drive myself, but the driving was also insane. There were barely any street signs, and there was a need for constant u-turning. Also, I have never seen so much chaotic traffic anywhere. Cars were coming from left and right everywhere we went, swerving at top speeds as if on a video game. It is a miracle I wasn’t in an accident! On the way from the airport, my driver went through multiple red lights. And not only were there cars crammed into a lane, there were little cab cars and motorbikes and regular bikes and people and horse-drawn carriage and cows all sharing the same roadway.
Speaking of cows, while driving around the cities and then the highways, there were also monkeys, dogs, pigs, donkeys, goats and even camels just lining the streets, sometimes walking in it or crossing it. A monkey even jumped on the car in front of us to cross the road in Jaipur.
Going back to general India thoughts, chaotic is a really good word for it. Cramped is another good word. Everything was so crowded, there were people everywhere. In fact, it was exactly like the movies, Lion and Slumdog Millionaire make it out to be. Every queue I was on, the person behind me would be up my ass. It was very uncomfortable. Also uncomfortable was the amount of poverty everywhere. There were beggars everywhere you looked and there were lots of huts and shanties where the lived, and when we were stopped at major intersections, kids would try to sell you things. Some girls were doing somersaults and trying to make money that way. Apparently, they are probably a part of some ring of kids, like in Oliver, where they have to make quotas to be fed. Very disturbing, very depressing, oh and while we’re doing d’s: very dirty and dusty. So much sand everywhere. Oh, and there were guys peeing everywhere; it was urinocial chaos!
In fact, I was racially targeted everywhere I went because they assume white people have money. And compared to most of India, I do. So next time you are feeling poor, remember in the grand scheme of things, you are not.
So, yes, that was hard. Also, breathing was hard, as I mentioned, though I got more used to the air as the week went on, and it was definitely worst in the airport. I also couldn’t drink water anywhere but Unnati’s mother’s house, so I just refilled my bottles there, and then kept getting water bottles: 20 rupees or 30 cents for a huge bottle. Speaking of money, everything was ridiculously cheap. So, I guess that was a perk.
Food-wise, I had one Indian meal for lunch, and even though it was mild, I did not handle it particularly well. So, after that I stuck with the mildest of mild.
I am happy to say unlike most people who visit India, I did not get sick at all.
WEDNESDAY, 1/3, JET LAG DAY IN DELHI
I had figured I would be tired, and I would sleep in as long as possible on Wednesday. Unfortunately, like today, my body was too confused and I woke up after 6 hours. I went to Unnati’s (about 5 minutes from her mother’s) for breakfast with her and her cousins. Unnati had a cousin and her 2 sons in town, which worked out really nice timing wise. Since I had thought I would sleep, there wasn’t really anything on my agenda, so I went with her cousin and her mom shopping. I got $30 of souvenirs because everything was super cheap, including a new green sleep mask with eyes as its design for $6. I got a little cat case to put rubberbands in, and a coaster, and little musician statues. So I felt good having all my souvenirs found early. We went to a mall called Santushi, and we had to go through security detectors multiple times in the complex complex. That’s another thing – metal detectors everywhere, and then they would grope you really intensely while they were patting you down. We went to a grocery store where every American import was very expensive (peanut butter $8, Oreos $10, cereal $12) while spices (anardana, dalchi?) and other things I’ve never seen before (seeds called pulses?) were very cheap. We had Mexican for dinner at Unnati’s, which was very edible for me. I also had to sing for my supper a bit, but it’s nice to have an attentive, appreciative audience.
THURDSAY, 1/4, AGRA
Since Unnati’s cousins were in town, the good news is we were able to take her driver, and the 5 of us were driven to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Getting to Agra was indeed agra-vating. We left at 7:30am, but really didn’t leave till 8. The road was so foggy that it was worse than anything I’ve ever seen before, even in London when there’s a foggy day (in London town). And so many people were on the road that it was a little scary. We had our double blinker lights on the whole way. Also, in India, it is customary to beep to say “I’m here” especially when it’s foggy, so it was incredibly noisy. And the roads are so bumpy that between that and the noise, it’s impossible to nap (at least for me). When we stopped for gas, the car would not start up after, and we had to push it to the side. However, after a few minutes, it worked normally again, which was quite a relief. The trip up took 5 hours, which was more than the 3 hour distance.
The Taj Mahal was worth the whole journey. It is a wonder of the world for a reason! Wow. Just wow. When we got there, I ended up getting postcards, and I learned a lesson. Always give exact change to street peddlers. Instead of giving me change, he kept trying to up-sell me with other things. Thankfully, I did get my change, but I always tried to have small bills for things after that. The ATMs gave out 2000 rupee bills, but I had trouble getting change for 500 ones often.
We ended up getting a guide, which I could’ve done without, but when you’re with a group, you have to make sacrifices. The guide did get us through the queue very quickly, at least. And he took wonderful pictures for me, and that was worth having him. Those pictures are on my Instagram and Facebook (instagram/sethbhdotcom should be viewable for those without an account?), and they were another trip highlight.
When going through security, the broke my pencil tip. I guess that could’ve been used as a weapon?
Anyway, Taj Mahal stands for beauty crown palace, and beautiful it was. It took 200,000 men to build from 1631-1638. All the stone art in the white marble was done by hand. The building is symmetrical from any angle, and the tomb is in the exact center. We had to wear shoe covers on our feet (better than leaving our shoes to get stolen), and while we couldn’t take pictures inside, I took an awful lot outside. Just breathtaking.
Afterwards, this little boy harangued me till I bought 3 magnets form him for 100 rupee ($1.50), but since I had exact change, I gave in to have some magnets to give to people. Before that I actually bought a fancy handmade magnet etched into white marble for 550 ruble ($8.46) because it’s so pretty. And now it’s on my fridge to remind myself of that wonderful day!
On the way home, we stopped for lunch at an Indian restaurant (or I guess just restaurant), and even though we specified mild food, it was too spicy for me. Eating it, I was fine, but on the way home, I was not. Unfortunately due to traffic, the fog, and getting lost for awhile, it took 6 hours to get home. Let’s just say, it was fortunate that people reliving themselves on the side of the road was so prevalent in India.
FRIDAY, 1/5, DELHI SIGHT SEEING DAY ONE
Alright, so originally I was going to do a bus tour, but when I looked at the itinerary, there were things I wanted to do that weren’t on the list and things on the list I didn’t want to do. Also, the bus comes every 40 minutes, so there would be all this wasted time getting off somewhere and waiting for the bus if it took less than 40 minutes, or if it took an hour, waiting 40 minutes. So, Unnati suggested I just get a private driver for the day. I was really weirded out by this concept, because it makes me feel like a 1%-er. However, it was only $40 for the day, so I figured it would be worth it. And it was! My driver, Bunty, was super nice, and took me everywhere I wanted. And then he just waited for me to come out! He was professional and punctual, and I’m really glad I broke down and got the car, even if for some reason, there weren’t any seatbelts in the back seat.
The first stop for the day was the must-see Red Fort. The architecture was just amazing. Even though I read the signs, I didn’t retain that much. So I assume it was home to someone important. I spent two hours exploring the fort and going to 4 tiny museums. I think you really have to see the pictures to gauge what it was like to be there. And it was a beautiful day in the low 70s. The only sad thing was the WiFi, while free, required a text confirmation to your phone. And since my phone doesn’t have service abroad, I couldn’t receive it. Though, I think it’s nice being off the grid all day when you’re away. Also, the toilets were pay at all the Delhi monuments, which caused me to sing “Privilege to Pee” often. I did spend 3 rupees (5 cents) to use a urinal by the end of the day, just because I wasn’t going to be one of those street pee-ers!
I saw dogs everywhere in these monuments, by the way. So many stray dogs, but not a single cat the entire time! Also, while I was there, I took my first selfie with some Indians who were really excited to meet a white person. I felt like a celebrity!
Afterwards, we drove to Jama Masjid, a huge Muslim temple. It was so mobbed, and there was no parking, so I just took pictures of the outside as we drove by. Next, we went to Birla Mandir, a Hindu Temple, which was also very nice outside. Inside, it had a beautiful gold and crystal Buddha, marble floors and some statue elephants. I left my shoes in the car, but they made me put my phone and camera in a locker, even though I was just going to bring it back to the car. And then the guy asked for a tip for doing this simple task. This is when I learned that I should not let anyone do anything for me because they were going to ask for a tip. This was another recurring theme. While I don’t mind paying people for services, I do mind when I don’t know that I’m going to have to, on principle. Even though I got really irritated by the amount of people who would try to do things for me assuming as a white person I would give them money, I tipped most of them anyway. At least this guy he gave me a Hindu guy, so I have a souvenir and if I cared could learn more about its philosophy!
Continuing our temple tour, we went to Gurudawra Bangla Sahib, which was another Muslim temple. My driver stayed by my shoes, and I went into the large temple complex. (Incidentally, since all the temples required you to go shoeless, all my socks got really dirty very fast, so it’s good I brought some extra pairs since Niki always gets annoyed when I reuse socks on vacations, I’ve gotten into that habit.) They put a little bandana thing on my head, but at least I was able to take pictures inside, so I could selfie it. Again it was a very ornate temple with lots of gold and marble around.
Also on the way, we stopped by the India Gate, which I took a bunch of pictures with.
Next stop for the day was Humayun’s Tomb, which was actually a bunch of tombs. It was quite idyllic there with lovely gardens. There were a lot of steep steps, so I felt like I was getting exercise. The tombs were set up in really wonderful memorials. This guy who was on staff started taking me around and telling me about the tomb. Naively, I thought that was just part of his job, but afterwards, of course, he asked for a tip. I was so mad at him because I don’t like guides and tours, especially when they speak fractured English! It takes too much energy to translate what they are saying, first off, and second off, I can read. I don’t need audio tours or guides because I am capable of reading. I also process things better visually rather than aurally. After I tipped this guy, I started avoiding anyone who wanted to talk to me, and waiving them off saying I didn’t have any cash left.
After that, we went to Qutab Minar, which was definitely my favorite thing in Delhi. Oh, so all of these monuments were really cheap. Even the Taj Mahal was only $15. But there was a separate price for foreigners (more expensive, but cheap for us) and usually a separate line, sometimes through security. The line is way shorter, which I guess is because we are spending more money.
Qutab Minar is a muse-see. Again, I don’t really think any description could do it wonders. There was a tall iron pillar and lots of architectural relics. Just gorgeous and so serene. And there were really cute green birds.
Anyway, the final stop for the day was to go see the musical, Zangoora. On the way, we hit what my driver called “Peak Hour” and it was wall to wall cars for awhile; it was the worst traffic I’ve ever seen. We drove past the Cyber City, which I think is basically Silicon Valley. And we headed towards The Kingdom of Dreams, which was the gorgeous theatre complex.
My show ticket was about $30, but I ended up having to spend another few to get an English translator. Unfortunately, the dialogue is live on stage but the translation is pre-recorded. It often didn’t line up (I think English takes fewer words to say something than Hindi?), plus some of the dialogue had obviously been changed. However, it was good to understand what was happening. Though, the show is about an orphaned prince, and I think you can figure out the entire plot just from those two words. Go ahead, I dare you to try!
The show itself was not like Broadway musicals because when the songs started, everyone lip-synced. So, no live orchestra, no live singing. However, the dancing was superb, and there were some Circ de Soliel elements with some flying, magic and a giant projection screen.
Anyway, the audience was so rude. A lot of people came late, including the people in front of me and next to me, and I might have given them an evil glare.
Also, you could bring food in, and they did. I also got some tomato soup to eat for dinner, but I finished before the show. At least the theatre had free bathrooms and ample seat room, especially compared to a Broadway theatre. Another difference was there was no program. After the show, the screens had credits like a movie, and they announced the cast before each act. After the show, there was so much traffic, but I eventually got home and went almost straight to sleep.
SATURDAY, 1/6, DELHI SIGHT SEEING DAY TWO
Saturday, my driver picked me up at 9:30, and the first stop was the President’s House. On the way, we drove down Shanti Path or Embassy Lane. I got out for a bit around the President’s House and Parliament and took some pictures, but there was low visibility because of early morning fog.
The next stop was the Gandhi Museum, which was free until this guy forced himself on me as a guide for the multimedia part. However, since it had been free and he showed me the entire thing, I tipped him. Before that part, I took a selfie with the Gandhi statue, read a bunch about him, saw his actual glasses. By the way, in case you didn’t know Gandhi was assassinated. There was a memorial where he was shot in the back of the garden. There were cute dioramas and facts and quotes about him all around. He was in jails in South Africa and India. He lead a salt rebellion. If you want to know more, wikipedia him! 😉
Next stop was the Train Railway Museum. I took a lot of train pictures for those of you who are into trains. There were 79 trains from around the world, and I took a joyous train ride around them all. Then, there was an inside museum with train parts and they had a huge miniature train model of Dehli upstairs, which was really cool.
After that it was time for the National Museum, which took me about 90 minutes to peruse 3 floors. There were some great sculptures from the BCE (before common era), and a lot of elephantal art (art featuring elephants). Also, there was a room of antique musical instruments, and those of you who remember my Berlin trip, know I took pictures of pretty much every single one.
Finally for Saturday I went to Akshardham Temple, which is basically India’s Disney World if instead of cartoons, it was about a Buddhist guy. They don’t allow cameras or phones, so I left that stuff in the car, which made me feel really naked. I didn’t think it was going to take 3-4 hours like Unnati said, but it did. First off, I walked around the Bharat Upvan (Garden of India), then I went to the Temple itself, which was really gorgeous, as usual. Next, I went to go to the exhibits, which included one of those walk from room to room thing as there are live displays that take you on a journey things. I had to wait a half hour b/c they needed enough people to do an English group. After that, we went to the boat ride, which was like It’s a Small World except it was all about India and its impact on the world (like inventing chess and some psychics). After that there was an iMax movie about the teenage-yogi Neelkanth Varni (Bhagwan Swaminarayan). It was filmed in 108 locations in India featuring 45,000 people (according to this booklet I have), and was pretty well done, even if I have never heard of this guy it was about. Finally, there was a water sound and light show that was wonderful with spouting fountains and multi-colored lasers, even if I couldn’t understand anything they were saying.
I’ve never seen people exit things so fast; the entire throng just moved like the wind to get out of there. I guess people in India are really used to being in massive crowds. Anyway, I went to Unnati’s for my final dinner in Delhi and prepared for my next few days to Jaipur.
SUNDAY, 1/7, JAIPUR, DAY ONE
We left at 8am on Sunday to drive to Jaipur. My driver offered to do the two day trip for 10,000 rupees, which is $154. That seemed pretty reasonable given it also doubled as transportation back to the airport (which was 1,000 from the airport to Unnati’s mother’s anyway). The highway to Jaipur was so much better than the one to Agra. In fact, it was almost like an American highway with a lot of animals on the sides. On the way, my driver stopped to pay his taxes in a little window in a non-descript building, which I found very odd.
The first stop was the Amber Fort. We didn’t hit much traffic till we were on the queue to get into the parking lot. I have never seen so many cars jammed into a tiny lot in my life! I walked up to the gate, and all these people kept saying: “Make sir, good price” but I kept saying no. I had issues finding where tickets were and the entrance was because it was so mobbed with people all the signs were hidden from view.
Anyway, the Amber Fort (also know as Amer Fort) was amber. It was also really huge and quite amazing. I think you should go look at my photos. This gigantic palace had so many rooms, and they really let you walk pretty much anywhere. It was almost like a maze (or a-maze-ing). Again, this guide attached himself to me, and I tried to get rid of him, but eventually he got the fact I did not “have any cash”. I walked around for a few hours exploring everything. The King apparently had 12 wives, so there were 12 wife rooms. I saw a goat and a bunch of stray dogs walking around. I walked through a tunnel up the whole hill to get a great view of Jaipur.
After that wonderful experience, my driver took me to a garden that a lot of people get couple photos at, so much so that they charge for all wedding/engagement photos. And then we took pictures of Kanak Ghati and Jal Mahal outside. Jal Mahal is a beautiful palace in the lake. And my final stop that night was the village Chokhi Dhani!
Chokhi Dhani is such a fun place. You to pay for a buffet dinner, but then most other things there are very cheap. (The dinner was only $11, too.) Food wise, I really didn’t want to get sick on my final few days in India, so even though the server kept trying to get me everything, I kept saying JUST RICE and NAAN. I took a few sweet things, but couldn’t really stomach them, even though only the spicy stuff would give me actual trouble. (Unnati said the food there was too spicy even for her, and also Bunty mentioned it, so I really knew to stay away from everything.) I ate a lot of rice and naan. A lot.
Besides the food, there were all sorts of things to do like skee ball, and there was a whole section on different religions in India, and also there were lots of shows. There was a magician that was pretty good. He produced a bird out of basket, and then made it 3. That’s pretty impressive. He did some coin tricks, too, which I’ve seen on Penn & Teller’s show before, but the bird trick was very impressive. And there were some Indian dancers and a fire breather. And I got henna on my hand, but I needed the hand, so I ended up washing it off pretty quickly after taking a picture. Oh, I also got a red dot on my forehead, but that woman forced me into tipping her for that quick blessing. Also, I got a quickie really tough massage. I got serenaded by a flute player who then forced me to tip him, too. I bought two hand-made puppets for $2.50 from their craft area. I went through an easy maze pretty quickly. And I rode an elephant, then a camel. I RODE AN ELEPHANT AND CAMEL!!! Though, I spent too much of my time on them trying to get a decent selfie (which didn’t happen). But man, that was SO COOL, though going up and down on the camel was a little scary.
Additionally, I had my palm read and got my numerology done for really cheap. There was also bird astrology, which consisted of a bird coming out of its box and choosing an envelope for you, but that one somehow seemed less scientific, so I didn’t do it. The palmist said that my 30s were very good for success and love. Apparently, I’m going to have a really crappy thing happen around 43 or 44, but after 45 my life will be joyous. I will easily live to my 90s given my huge lifeline, and by the end of my life, I will be incredibly wealthy. He said I will never have any money problems, but didn’t realize it’s b/c I’m so good at saving it. He did say something about me having more success if I moved to another city, though.
The numerologist said that I clearly don’t like to do things the way others do. And he says I don’t give out free advice (true) and that I don’t get up early, but if I did, I would have more success. I also splurged for the printout because that way I wouldn’t have to remember things. According to that, I have problems spending too much money, so I know it’s not 100% accurate. Other highlights: Good results for Kids’ happiness (does it mean cat’s?), Fame and Profession. I suffer from: “Mental unrest, hurdles in gain of wealth… different fears and worries persist… success in work is delayed.” That’s true, but this gives me hope: “However, the native also gets a miraculous time in life. After delays, native may achieve success and wealth.” And by “may” I assume it means “will definitely and finally”. Apparently green IS my favorable color, and my lucky number is actually 2. Finally, the worst day of the week for me is Tuesday, when I do my showcases: “Be extra cautious on Tuesday, which may bring you worries and financial losses.” Uh, oh!
So, apparently, combining those, I should move to LA and get up earlier. Sadly, neither is going to happen. Regardless, it seems both are saying that I will eventually get the success I deserve. I just don’t know if I can make it till 45 at this rate!
Anyway, after a few hours at Chokhi Dhani, I left and we drove to my home for the night. The hostel called the Wanderer’s Nest I stayed at was only $16 for the night and part of that money went to their school. It was definitely a hostel, and I had to take a really crappy shower in one of those showers that’s just a shower head and a drain. But the WiFi worked, and that was enough for me.
MONDAY, 1/8, JAIPUR, DAY TWO
The final day of the trip, my driver picked me up at 9. Our first stop was driving passed Hawa Mahal and taking some pictures of it. Next I went to Jantar Mantar and for the first time all trip, I saw a lot of other white people. Jantar Mantar means calculation of things. There were all these fascinating, large tools for calculating various astrological things. I pretty much took pictures of everything. There was a giant sun clock that was accurate to 20 seconds, as well as calculators of planetary distance, and a zodiac circle of 12 instruments used for measuring the celestial longitude and latitude. I took pictures of all the signs explaining things, if anyone is interested.
Next I crossed the street (scary, scary) to City Palace. Oh, I must give a shoutout to my non-expired NYU ID – even though some of the people looked at me like I was way too old to be a student, I got the student rate for everything in Jaipur. City Palace had a bunch of little museum exhibits in a really beautiful palace including costumes, paintings and an armory. I also paid a tip of 10 rupees to get a picture with the guards. Actually, as usual, they forced me to do it, but I was okay with it because it’s a cool picture. There was also a nice hall there where they have weddings. I enjoyed being there a lot, as it was another beautiful day, and I sat in the courtyard for a bit on a whim. It’s a good thing I did b/c I got two pictures out of it: this guy had the longest mustache I’ve ever seen, and then this boy from Dubai had my sunglasses (that’s what I get for getting the kid ones with neon green for 99 cents on eBay), so we took a picture together.
After that I went to the Doll Museum, which was less than a dollar for a few rooms filled with dolls from all over the world. I was literally the only person there; the guy turned on the lights for me. It was restored in 2014 after going into disarray and disrepair, but it was apparently very popular before that in the 70s/80s. I hope it becomes popular again because it was really nice, and the money goes to the school for the deaf where it is found.
My final museum of the trip was the Albert Hall Museum. It wasn’t my favorite, but I had the time, so I figured I should go. There were a few musical instruments and chess sets, at least! After I got through the museum fairly quickly, I sat in its garden reflecting on my trip and watching a crow eat some naan (which you can see in my soon to be Pulitzer Prize winning photo: “Crow eating naan”).
The final stop of the trip was to Jaipur’s Birla Mandir, which was yet another nice Hindu temple where I had to take off my shoes and couldn’t take pictures inside.
On the way to the airport, we stopped off at the Hotel Highway King, which is a 24 hour restaurant on the highway. Oh, before that, we stopped for gas, and I saw them put car into a hole under the hood (wha?) instead of the side of the car. At the restaurant, I had cheese pizza, which was actually really good with the little spices they had. And I had exactly 40 rupee left, and as usual, I spent my last currency on ice cream. I managed to find WiFi at the place, but I think it was someone’s phone’s hotspot (it actually said “Mi Phone”). I mentioned that to my driver, and he said he also had that on his phone. The first day he had said to me I could use his phone for internet. I thought he meant that I could take his phone and use it (which I would never do b/c it wasn’t an iPhone). But he meant he had a hotspot! Stupid language barrier!!! I could’ve had WiFi any time I was in the car!!!
However, I did finish my book on the plane, and that wouldn’t have happened if I had WiFi the whole ride. Anyway, I took advantage of his WiFi to catch up on crosswords and news, etc, for the last few hours drive to the airport. As there are no speed limits on the highway, we were zooming. He even tailed an ambulance for awhile to take advantage of its path that opened between trucks. Once there, I gave him his 10,000 rupee with an extra 1,000 tip and a thank you card (from my grandfather’s card stash). His eyes lit up when he saw his tip, so I think that was money well spent. (To recap: when I hire someone for a service, I always tipp very well. Also, FYI, I left a tip for all of Unnati’s mother’s staff.)
Getting through Delhi Airport customs and security was horrifying. I was actually there 4 hours early, which is good because it took a full hour to get through, and if I had pushed it like I pushed that Amsterdam day, it would’ve been horrible. I waited at the airport without Wifi, without plug chargers, without water to drink (since I was out of $$ and couldn’t have brought any water in), without breathable air (really horrible at the airport), but at least they had the radio on.
I flew home on Swiss Airlines. It was a 2am flight, and I had woken up at 9am. I was so tired I managed to sleep for a few hours, but I woke up in major pain b/c the seats were so cramped! I had neck pain and legs pain. Eventually I realized I could get more leg room if I moved my bag out from under the seat, and I got another few hours of sleep. Once they start making noise and putting the lights on, I was woken up, though. Swiss has really good food, at least. I managed to watch a movie for the last few hours of the trip: Patti Cake$. It was cute, but I was hoping it would be funnier.
TUESDAY, 1/9, A VERY LONG COMMUTE HOME
I got to Zurich Airport at 6am local time. Zurich Airport was incredibly clean and nice. The air smelled amazing, and the water was delicious and pure. And for those of you without phones who can’t get a text to confirm the WiFi password, there are kiosks that print a code when you scan your boarding pass. I sat by the terminal chatting with people (it was only 1am at home when it was 7am so plenty were still up) until they made us go back upstairs to pass through yet another passport check.
I managed to sleep another 4-5 hours on the second flight, falling asleep during the slow movie Maudie – Ethan Hawke and Sally Watkins were very good, but it was slow. When I woke up, I watched the rest of it. Then I watched this adorably funny movie Brigsby Bear, and I highly recommend it to everyone! Again, Swiss has good food, and I also got a Swiss pen when they had us fill out custom forms that we didn’t really need b/c they have kiosks at JKF now. By some miracle, I got through customs in JFK in 3 minutes with their new system, and somehow pushed myself awake till 2am when I collapsed and slept for 12 hours only waking up when Smee tried to get me up around 10 (I had to put him in the bathroom so I could sleep late).
Speaking of Smee, he was very aloof my first day back, but has since gotten over me leaving. He was pretty confused why I was up so early today, and I’m sure he’ll be really annoyed when he realizes I’m going to Boston for the weekend.
Alright, I did it! Thanks to the jet-lag, I managed to finish this whole trip recap before my 3PM bus to Boston! Hallelujah!
Overall, I really adored Amsterdam. It was a perfect city to do in just 24 hours.
For India, I’d say I loved all the destinations I went to: the monuments, the memorials, almost all the museums. I would give most of those 5 stars, and it was definitely worth going for those. That said, getting to everything was a nightmare, and sharing everything with so many people everywhere was also really claustrophobic. I found being there pretty emotionally taxing given the income disparity and the constant begging going on. I also really felt like a fish out of water since I couldn’t actually drink the water… or eat the food… or breathe the air… and I still feel weird saying that I had a driver.
Regardless, I’m really happy I went because I feel like seeing the rest of the world is the best way to gain perspective in our own lives. We are lucky to be in America, even with everything going on here.
And one final time: thank you to all of Unnati and family for hosting me and allowing me to experience this once-in-a-lifetime journey!
April 5th, 2018 — April Snow Showers Bring May White Flowers?
2018 has been such a busy year that I haven’t had time to send an update since my trip to India. So, here I am trying to rectify that, even though I have only 90 minutes… this might be the shortest ledger in history!
LIFE IS A CABARET, OLD CHUM
This April I’m doing 2 regular cabarets, 2 special cabarets, 1 kid cabaret, 1 geek cabaret and 4 concerts of my songs on the same day… and boy are my arms tired!
We are hitting 500 showcases that I have produced, emceed and accompanied in the past 11 years this April, so to celebrate we are doing an all day Wall-to-Wall SBH concert on Saturday, April 28th. The 4 parts are 1pm, 3:30pm, 6pm and 8:30pm, and discounts will be given the more parts one attends! 100 songs with over 70 singers. The cast will be announced this weekend, but you can find more details
I do hope that some of you will come to the cabaret to celebrate this huge milestone! It breaks my heart that even though we are doing 100 songs, that is only about half of my oeuvre; however, I feel like my fingers will be done after performing so many…
THE WRITE STUFF
I hope that YOU have bought my new book, Millennials are Ruining the World! by now, but if you haven’t, maybe this 5-star review will get you to:
“While I can understand one’s hesitation to buying a book with a title that generalizes a group of people, I can assure you, as a millennial, that Seth is merely exaggerating for comedic effect. And it works! Exaggerated titles are often best-sellers…not to be confused with basements full of wine, which are often considered best cellars. (A lot of similar jokes to the one I just made are in this book, so be prepared for puns.) His latest book of essays discusses the many things he doesn’t understand about the younger generation, and he includes personal stories to help us understand and relate. But it doesn’t feel at all like a book full of complaints about 20-somethings. Rather, it gives us a chance to laugh at ourselves and say, ‘Yup, we’re known for that.’ He also gives great advice about relationships and how to further your career, which I found helpful and reassuring. His cat, Smee, returns as a guest-writer to discuss all the ways cats are superior to millennials (although, let’s face it, cats are superior to humans in general). And he dedicates a chapter to the ways millennials are improving the world. I definitely recommend this book to all generations!”
And, you can stream (or download if you’re old-fashioned) the studio cast recording of The Diamond as Big as the Ritz on any platform. We are producing another reading of the show with a revised script, and a few new songs in June.
Other than that, I’m happy to say a few of my projects that have been on the back burner for years have seen new prospects. Unfortunately, I don’t want to jinx anything, so I’m not going to publicly talk about any of that yet. I’ll tell you, though, everything in life just takes way longer than you ever think it will or should or could. I continue to believe that with persistence, perspective and patience, I will eventually get where I believe I should be. Like Heinz ketchup, waiting in life produces a quality product to put on burgers and fries!
TAKE ME OUT OF MANHATTAN
Since April is ridiculously full, I thought I would start planning my summer trips. First off, Anne, Charise and I are going to New Orleans for the Jazz Festival in May! We are going to see performances by such people as Lionel Ritchie, Beck, Lyle Lovett and Sheryl Crow. While, I don’t know many songs by the last 3, I have at least heard of them! Also on our itinerary: a swamp tour, a ghost/vampire/witch tour, the voodoo museum and… all that jazz!
Since I will probably never go to that Southern part of the country again, I am going to rent a car and drive it to visit Niki in Atlanta stopping by Mississippi and Alabama on the way, so I can check those states off my Been app! I’m going to see Gulf Islands National Seashore and perhaps De Soto National Forest in Mississippi, and in Alabama: Mobile, Montgomery and Selma, including a Fitzgerald museum and the National Voters Rights Museum.
Next up, Emi and I are going to see Celia in Chicago… the musical… in New Haven in June. Also, I hope to have a weekend in July in Pennsylvania and the annual one at Anne’s family’s beach house in Delaware in July or August.
I think it’s very important to have a lot of vacations lined up to get through the busy days, and I look forward to seeing more of the country and the world this year.
SMEE AT LAST
Smee just wanted me to say hello to you all. He has not been minding the cold weather because he never has to experience it. He also finds snow pretty, so it hasn’t fazed him that it is still flurrying in April. He is beyond thrilled that we are hitting our 50th Facebook Live Music Monday on April 16th! Now he seems to be trying to get me to feed him another spoonful of food, so I guess it’s time to move on to sadder topics…
AND NOW THE TIME HAS COME
As anyone on social media will know, the great man, Elliott Taubenslag, who ran my theatre camp for 50 years passed away last week. I’m pasting my eulogy here for those who did not see it:
It is with great sadness and streaming tears that I type this Facebook eulogy to acknowledge that one of my mentors, Elliott Taubenslag, has passed at the age of 88. According to his son, it was, thankfully, an easy, painless passing. I don’t even know where to begin. There is no doubt in my mind that Elliott is one of the people who has shaped my life and my career the most. Elliott ran Children’s Summer Theater, an incredible 6-week summer camp in my hometown. When I was in elementary school, I was in the elementary school camp, and we would see the theatre shows every Friday morning.
By fifth grade, I had declared myself a thespian, so it only made sense to join the Summer Theatre troupe. I spent 12 summers with Elliott, starting out as a camper, then becoming a CIT (Counselor-in-Training), then a counselor, then musical director and one of the head counselors, playing various iconic roles from my first one: a fish in The Little Mermaid to the Prince in The Little Mermaid, the Beast, the Pied Piper and Willy Wonka. Looking back, it is a marvel that we used to pull off doing 6 shows in 6 weeks, and that training has stayed with me to this day. In the later years, Elliott would delegate to Nancy and me, but in the beginning, he taught the whole show by himself without a script. He was truly a force of nature.
From Elliott I learned so many lessons. Here are just a few:
*If you have fun, the audience will, too. I have lived by this credo for years, and, indeed, I always remind performers to have fun, because if we’re not having fun, why are we doing this to ourselves?
*Every part of theater matters. Even though I was eventually MD, I always pitched in with the sets, costumes, lights, etc.
*No one is better than anyone else. We all had our strengths and weaknesses, and at the end of the day, only the finished product mattered.
*Adlib like crazy when things go wrong. There were times Elliott would just take over a scene if it went off the rails. And if people weren’t projecting enough, he would repeat the lines louder and say, “did you hear she said she loved him?” I can trace all my ability to improv like a master back to summer theatre.
*Translating mumble: Elliott had a habit of mumbling or not articulating what he wanted with words, and it was a skill to figure that out. He would tell me often, “play sinister music” here or “that should be happier” which has allowed me to work with collaborators who don’t speak music very easily. Indeed, I still to this day have recurring Elliott dreams where I am trying to figure out what he is telling me to do.
*Following kids. I think the reason I am so adept at following singers stems from years of following kids, plunking out random melody notes, and jumping when they missed beats.
*Lyric writing. I wrote my first lyrics with Elliott, learning to mimic the proper scansion and proper rhyme scheme.
*Be entertaining! Elliott would always go for a laugh, and would always make people smile. His shows were always about 2 things: tell the story and make people laugh, which I think is why I’ve written so many comedy songs.
*How to self-produce. One summer when Elliott didn’t want to produce a night show, a few of us took it on ourselves to mount a performance that benefited Camp Daisy. The seeds of self-producing were sown, and I still do charity concerts twice a year, in addition, to everything else I self-produce.
*How to have a poker face at auditions. Sometimes we would get some really untalented kids audition for the talent show, and Elliott would always smile and congratulate them on a great job done. He would mark their forms with 999. I asked him why he would rate the worst kids so highly, and he said it was in case any of the parents saw the sheet so they would think their kids were the best ones. (The actual best ones would get 100-105 with 105 being the best. 200s decent, 300s mediocre, but 999 were the worst by far.)
*You can make a living doing theatre.
*And finally, don’t jump off the stage because someone 7 years ago broke their leg.
Thus, I am truly grateful to have spent a dozen summers of my life with this larger-than-life hero, whose work among other things was once deemed “Best Children’s Program in the United States”.
A few months ago, his son posted it was Elliott’s 88th birthday, and I sent a message asking him to tell Elliott I said: “Happy birthday!” He told me that he read my message to him, and Elliott smiled and waved hi. I hope he will continue to smile on me and those of us whose lives he enriched for years to come from Beggari, Rotterdam or, really, any place that will let use the microphone.
READ ME (BOOKS)
Well, I guess I have been too busy to actually read much because most of the things on this list are very short. Hopefully I’ll find time to read on vacation in May, because I doubt I’ll have time in April…
Lyra’s Oxford – I realized I had never read this sequel to the Dark Materials trilogy, but it’s like 40 pages.
Muppets Comics: Peter Pan & Snow White – I was recommended to check out these comics and they didn’t disappoint.
Gonzo Girl – This is the one actual novel on the list this month.
A Wrinkle in Time – I reread this childhood classic in anticipation of the movie, but then the movie got really bad reviews, so I’ll just wait till it’s on a plane or HBO.
I think I need to make myself read a classic next.
SCREEN ME (MOVIES)
Here are the movies I’ve seen so far in 2018:
Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri – This was a wonderfully written and acted picture.
The Maze Runner 3 – I felt obligated to finish this series, and while the movie was fairly entertaining, they changed so much from the book and left some glaring plot holes, it was hard to enjoy.
The Dark Crystal – I went to a Fathom Events to see this classic Jim Henson movie on the big screen, going to see Labyrinth at the end of the month, too!
Hearts Beat Loud – This was a great indie movie starring Nick Offerman, besides the grammatical error (LOUDLY) and the fact it should be called “We are not a Band”.
Black Panther – This Marvel Super Hero movie actually lived up to its hype!
Cock Blockers – Got a free preview to this HILARIOUS movie. Seriously, it’s filthy and HILARIOUS.
Ready Player One – I was pleasantly surprised that the adaptation of this fantastic novel was also fantastic. We paid $26 to see it in iMax, and while nothing was worth $26, it was just wonderful from start to finish.
WATCH ME (TV)
My poor DVR is very full right now of shows I’m lukewarm on, and trying to get myself to delete. But here are shows that I am Leia-warm on!
The Americans: I cannot tell you how happy I am the best drama on TV is back for its 10 final episodes. I cannot imagine this show ending without some of its regulars dying, but I’m looking forward to its conclusion anyway.
Legion: This Marvel show is SO WEIRD, but I like it anyway.
The Magicians: Speaking of weird, the 3rd season of this one was splendid, and I can’t wait for Season 4!
Gotham and Agents of SHIELD: Shout-out to 2 shows that have had creative resurgences this season.
Muppet Babies: I am so happy that Muppet Babies is around just in time for my nephew to watch! While the show is obviously geared towards kids, I’m happy to have it on in the background while working.
BoJack Horseman: Emi and I are watching this satirical cartoon that is funny and sad at the same time.
The Tick: This Amazon show that is a comedic superhero romp is wonderful.
The Crossing: The pilot for this new show from the LOST team intrigued me enough to keep going. Either I’m prescient by telling you this, or it’ll be canceled in 2 episodes.
Black Mirror: Finally, I started this show (was going to use its acronym, but then deleted it for obvious reasons) with my friend, Roger, and we are loving it, at the same time as being completely scared of how accurate it can be.
In more streaming news, I plan on getting to Jessica Jones Season 2 and Love Season 3 eventually.
EXPERIENCE ME (THEATRE)
And finally, here is the theatre I have seen in 2018 so far:
Party Face – Off-Broadway play starring Hayley Mills.
A Walk with Mr. Heifetz – historical play that took place in Israel and had a live violin player.
Hey, Look Me Over – Encores put up excerpts of 7 musicals, including the wonderful Mack & Mabel.
Amy and the Orphans – Good play Off-Broadway about a woman with Down Syndrome.
Cardinal – Off-Broadway play about a small town trying to make a name for itself.
L’Elisir d’Amore – Charming, comical Donizetti opera at the Met.
Hello, Dolly! – BERNADETTE is giving the performance of her career right now!
In the Body of the World – Eve Ensler’s touching one-woman show about her battle with cancer and her mother’s death.
Broadway by the Year 1930/1964 – 18th year of this Town Hall staple.
Fire and Air – Off-Broadway play about the Ballet Russes.
Stomp – Finally saw this Off-Broadway long-running show. Not much plot, but a lot of banging…
Jerry Springer: the Opera – This was so hilarious! So much profundity operatically sung! Loved it!
Assassins – Production of Sondheim’s masterpiece in Brooklyn.
Grand Hotel – Wonderful concert revival of this musical that I’d never seen before.
The Amateurs – Off-Broadway comedy at Vineyard Theatre.
At Home at the Zoo – Revival of this Albee play. I think he remains my favorite playwright.
Lobby Hero – Broadway revival of this play I saw Off-Broadway when I moved to NYC. I didn’t remember the plot at all, which is good b/c there are a lot of twists. Oh, also Michael Cera and Captain America were in it.
Broadway by the Year 1947/1966 – Second of the new format where they do one year in Act 1, and another in Act 2.
Good for Otto – 3 hour play about 2 therapists and their eccentric clients, where I realized I am basically a young Mark-Linn Baker.
Other than that, I’m trying for Harry Potter play tickets via the lottery every week, and I would like to also see Three Tall Women and Mean Girls before summer.
C’EST TOUT… FOR NOW!
I apologize for the shortness of this update. I am incredibly busy right now, but I thought it was important to remind everyone of the big celebration on Saturday, April 28th!
May 10th, 2018 — A Trip to the South
Last week I took a vacation to New Orleans for the Jazz Festival, then I saw a bit of the surrounding Louisiana, then a patch of Mississippi and a few cities in Alabama before spending a night in Atlanta. I am officially now up to having been to 27 states, or 54% of the country! What follows is a recap of a lovely trip. As always, I highly recommend checking out my photo album on Facebook. (It took 2 hours to caption 720 photos. It is a very inefficient interface, and I have it straight from Samidh that Facebook hasn’t been investing a lot of time in optimizing “desktop mass upload use cases” which is just bigotry against non-mobile users!!!!) But, anyway, I (as usual) digress… first, I should mention a few things before the trip synopsis…
SETH’S EPIC 500TH SHOWCASE EXTRAVAGANZA
Before I left, we did a 4-part concert of my songs. We performed 100 of my songs, and had 60 performers. It was actually epic. There are many videos up on social media, but here are direct links to the songs that are new to YouTube (3 world premieres, 4 older songs revisited):
It’s All Going to Be Fine
Vote for Me
Exploring the Fridge
THE DIAMOND AS BIG AS THE RITZ
We are doing a reading of a revised version of the show (I actually still have to write one new song) on Monday, June 18th at 7pm and Tuesday, June 19 at 1pm. We will announce the cast soon!
Other than that, I hope to get a lot of writing done on another project this summer, and, as always, there are still plenty of projects on pause that I hope will get unpaused in the near future.
DAY ONE: WEDNESDAY, 5/2, NEW ORLEANS
Alright, here we go into the part you are probably awaiting! This was only a 6 day trip, so I anticipate this being a shorter ledger than usual… though, my short is still pretty long compared to anyone who is doing anything on a mobile device (not to be confused with the city, Mobile, which I went to on day 5!).
First off, the idea for the trip happened when I was having shiva for my grandfather in September. Somehow my obsession with my Been app (an app that lets you count every state and country you’ve “been” to, hence it’s name), and Mollie and I realized we had both never been to New Orleans… Anne said she loved going down for the jazz festival years ago and would love to revisit. So, we decided we could go down for Jazz Festival in May. Mollie ended up not being able to go, so I asked a bunch of friends since the Airbnb (supposedly) fit 2-4 people, and my friend, Charise, who lives in LA these days, was very excited. She loves New Orleans, loves jazz, and said yes to the address, so quickly!
Wednesday afternoon, Anne and I flew down to Atlanta for an hour layover, where we met up with my BFF, Niki, who I would see again at the end of the trip. Then, we landed in New Orleans around 7pm CST, and Charise had also just landed 15 minutes before us! We found each other, and went to rent our car. For me driving is part of the fun of vacation b/c I rarely get to do it! Though, by the end of the trip, I was ready to not be driving again any time soon.
Anyway, we dropped our stuff off at the Airbnb. Now at this point, I want to preface this writeup with the fact that I’m going to gloss over some of the unpleasantness of the trip. There wasn’t actually that much, but I don’t see the point in documenting it for posterity. Thus, I will just say that I gave the Airbnb 3 stars, and leave it at that. (It was cheap for a reason.)
Of course, we headed directly into the French Quarter, where we ate dinner at the Governor’s restaurant (which had a mural of all of Louisiana’s governors on the wall). I had chicken and waffles, which was way better than any chicken and waffles I’ve had in NYC. Way, way, way better.
Next, we walked down Bourbon Street. It wasn’t actually that crowded, probably b/c it was late on a weeknight, but I’m glad we got it checked off before the weekend. I was excited to see so many bars named after cats (Cats Meow, Fat Catz, etc). We walked around Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, which was really cool. We saw some great architecture, took pictures outside of Louis Armstrong Park, walked through Pirate Alley to Jackson Square. And, I had my first of many beignets at Cafe De Monde. #yum After that, we walked a bit down the Moonwalk on the Mississippi River… Seeing it, I decided to count it… so I went: ONE, MISSISSIPPI… HA, HA, HA… and um, that was it, there was only one. Anyway, we called it a night shortly thereafter.
DAY TWO: THURSDAY, 5/3, NEW ORLEANS
Thursday, we headed to our first day at Jazz Fest. It was really a fantastic experience. First, we drove around trying to find parking, and settled on a $10 lot that was a bit of a hike, but for New Yorkers, wasn’t so far. We got acclimated a bit, and ended up starting in the Blues Tent where we watched the J Monque’D Blues Revue. It was, as you’d imagine, very bluesy, and he surrounded himself with some kids, and they all looked like they were having a grand time. After they finished, we caught the last 5 minutes of Pat Casey & The New Sound in the Jazz tent. On the way, I ended up having beignets again. Afterwards, we looked at some of the crafts booths, and headed to the main area. We saw a few parades. I had a delicious pineapple mint sorbet. We stopped by the zydeco stage to see a bit of Bonsoir, Catin. We watched a live blacksmith presentation, then saw the Native American Pow Wow: Native Nations Intertribal do a pow wow. At the end, we pow wowed, so we became Indians for the day!
After that, we saw a big of Cyril Neville’s Swamp Funk at the Congo Square Stage, then went to the Economy tent to see a bit of Preservation Brass, where we ended up dancing in a conga line behind a really old man who was really shaking a leg! By that point, we realized how nice it was to actually sit down in a venue with shade (the good kind), so we sat and watched Tatiana Eva-Marie and the Avalon Jazz Band at the Lagniappe Stage. I think Tatiana was French b/c she did a bunch of French jazz songs, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
For dinner, I grabbed Lamb Tagine and a Tunisian Salad from one of the food booths… and then, we went to see the legendary, iconic LIONEL RITCHIE. Lionel looks AMAZING. It was really a trip highlight, and maybe even a life one! Lionel sang “Hello” and “Dancing on the Feeling” and “Brick House” and “We are the World” which he apparently co-wrote with Michael Jackson and then ended with my favorite “All Night Long”! I enjoyed it so much, I even was millennial and took some videos, which you can find on my Facebook page…
After the festival, we sped like crazy folk to make it on time for our Ghost, Voodoo & Vampire Tour. (Though, there weren’t really any vampire stories?) On the two hour walking tour, we heard stories about various ghosts. For instance, there was one bar where someone had jumped off of, and that the ghost of someone reenacting that death appears occasionally. We heard about Marie Laveau: apparently, she could predict things because she got her gossip from all of the servants who overheard various things and she would blackmail men who were having affairs for money and influence city officials to help the poor by hosting lavish sex orgies. Also, we learned about Delphine LaLaurie (whom Kathy Bates portrayed in American Horror Story: Coven). Most of the horrible stuff about LaLaurie torturing slaves and trying to create a cream from their blood to keep herself looking young was true. Also, the entire house was haunted still and anyone who owns it ends up with really bad luck. Apparently, Nicolas Cage was the owner for a few years, and in that time, all of his movies failed in the box office. On the advice of a voodoo master, he ended up buying a tomb in the famous cemetery to get rid of his luck, and it was actually hit by lightning! Finally, he told us about Julia Brown who was a legendary voodoo priestess. She famously said once when she was feeling taken for granted: “”One day I’m going to die and take the whole town with me.” When she died, the day of her funeral, there was a huge hurricane that came out of nowhere and destroyed the town and killed many people… and also exactly 99 years after, her house randomly collapsed one day.
When the tour ended, we were a little hungry, so we had some Mexican food at Felipe’s, which I think was a chain. (I prefer Chipotle.) After that, we called it a night so we could get up earlier on Friday.
DAY THREE: FRIDAY, 5/4, NEW ORLEANS
We started Friday in the garden district. The garden district is a really posh neighborhood to walk around. There are multi-colored mansions lining St. Charles Ave. We ended up going around in a circle, but on the way, we stumbled upon the historic Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. It’s actually quite fortuitous because Anne had expressed regret we didn’t have time for a cemetery tour. When we got to the entrance, lo and behold, there was a woman offering a free tour (for tips). All of the graves in a New Orleans cemetery are above ground because of the fact that the whole area is already under sea level. They build the tombs, skyward, and often families are all buried in the same ones. They wait 5 years, then smush the remains up to make space for the next person. Indeed, there were temporary tombs for anyone who died less than 5 years apart. And for poor people, there were mass graves where sometimes 100 people are buried. Also, people can lease their name being on the tomb for a period, and then their relatives have to renew it perpetually. The oddest moment on the tour was when we saw a tomb that was made up of stones, apparently a more affordable option that they learned from “the Jewish” when they were in the Warsaw Ghetto. And that’s about all she said about the Jewish, but that was the only moment on the whole trip we realized we were not in Kansas (or NYC) anymore…
Other interesting facts: many movies and TV shows (including Buffy!) have shot scenes in the cemetery, which is owned by the city, so they try to get as much money as possible from it. However, no one is allowed to touch or climb upon the real tombs, so there is a little plot that is left empty for movies/tv shows to erect prop tombs that they can climb out of or upon, etc.
We also learned about the etymology of a few cliches. In the old days, people didn’t realize that a person in a coma wasn’t actually dead yet. So, they would have a wake, where they would see if the person would wake up. Eventually, they would bury them in the tomb, but leave them a string attached to a bell, so if they did come back to live, they could ring it to alert the person working the “graveyard shift” overnight. Indeed, that person would then be “saved by the bell” and be called a “dead ringer”.
Afterwards, we headed to our second day at Jazz Festival. The second day was easier because we knew where to park, knew where to eat, knew where to pee, etc. We started out in the jazz tent where we saw the Wess Anderson Quintet while we ate lunch. I had the most delicious BBQ, I have ever had. The meat just fell off the bones; it was literally finger-licking good. I also had peach cobbler because while I’m on vacation, I eat a lot of dessert… we meandered around for a bit, and then ended up at the Gentilly Stage for the incredible Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Unfortunately, this was 3pm in the afternoon, and there was no shade. Even sitting, the sun was blaring down on us. I dowsed myself in suntan lotion, but it was not enough. It felt like we were roasting. So, we had no choice but to go somewhere with less potent sun rays. We saw about 5 minutes of the 79rs Gang Mardi Gras Indians at the Jazz & Heritage Stage, but they were pretty repetitive. We ended up splitting up for a bit; I sat in the nicely shaded Economy Tent to watch the Players Ella & Louie Tribute Band (it’ll surprise no one that I like old school standards). Afterwards, I couldn’t resist my second dessert of the day: a homemade ice cream sandwich.
Reunited (and it feels so good), we saw most of Aaron Neville’s set. Aaron Neville has previously performed with Ernie! (Though, according to my Muppet expert friend, Ryan, it was Zombie Ernie because it was Jim Henson re-cut since it was after he died but before Steve Whitmire took over as Ernie.) Aaron sang mostly covers like “Don’t Worry: Every Little Thing is Going to be Alright” and it was very enjoyable. He has a very high voice. Also, his brother recently passed, so it was filled with emotional pathos.
During Aaron, we kept inching closer to the barrier between the regular section and the VIP section with the goal of being to lean on the barrier for Sheryl Crow. By some miracle, a woman asked us to hold her spot, and then didn’t return till the last 5 minutes of Sheryl. So, I did get to lean on the barrier! Phew! Sheryl Crow was wonderful. I hadn’t realized that I knew some of her songs (I think I knew 3 – “All I Wanna Do” and “Every Day in a winding Road” 2 of them). Also, Sheryl is a fantastic musician and performer, playing piano, guitar and even harmonica. For a second, she got a little bit political before singing a song “Halfway There” about meeting halfway. But when she started to say how crazy it has been lately, the whole audience got very quiet, and she gave a laughing look to her band, and let it go without inciting a riot. (Again, we were not in NYC anymore.)
Thankfully, we didn’t have anywhere to rush to, so we took our time getting to Frenchmen Street for the evening. Frenchmen Street is in the Marigny district, and was so much nicer and less overwhelmingly crowded than Bourbon Street. We ate at Marigny Brasserie and Bar and I had a most delicious burger topped with garlic aioli, goat cheese and spinach. Charise and I split bread pudding for my third dessert of the day… I was sad that our restaurant choice didn’t have live music, and by the time we left… it did! Next, we went to the Palace Market to see a lot more arts and crafts from local artists. And we ended up lingering on a corner watching a street band for a bit before calling it a night.
DAY FOUR: SATURDAY, 5/5, LOUISIANA
On Saturday, we started at the Pharmacy Museum. Before that, we were lucky to find cheap and quick breakfast at Antoine’s Annex. $2 for scrambled eggs made up for the fact a banana was $1.25… Anyway, Charise had really wanted to check out the Pharmacy Museum, and I’m really glad she made us go! It was only $5, and it was fascinating. They had lots of old instruments used for diagnosing. There were all kinds of old medicines. Also things like: a one-eared stethoscope, anti-colic nipple clamps for babies, love potions, voodoo dolls, old hypodermic needles, old dental equipment, a birthing chair, miracle elixirs, an old enema bag, glass eyes, and our favorite: rectal dilators!
On the way back to the car, we got pictures of Jackson Square when the sun was out, and then it was time to drive for a half hour out of the city for our Swamp Tour! We went on a Jean Lafitte Swamp Tour, and it was really idyllic. We rode down the canal, saw the bayou and a marsh. There were alligators enjoying the balmy day, and in fact, we got to hold a live alligator on the way! (I also got my nephew a really cute stuffed alligator!)
After the tour, we had to run to the airport to drop Charise off. The airport was on the way to our next stop, Laura: A Creole Plantation. Celia had recommended we go there, and I was happy she did. The plantation is a historical site, where you learn about making sugar and, also, slavery. The place was given its historical landmark status because the original French copy of the Uncle Remus stories (Zip-a-dee-do-dah!) was found in the cabins there. In the little museum we perused before our tour, there were a lot of interesting histories of slaves who once worked there. The most famous was Fat Domino, whose family had been on the plantation for generations.
The plantation was originally called the Duparc plantation, but it’s now been renamed in honor of Laura Locoul who was the granddaughter of one of the three children of the original owner. Laura wrote a memoir, which offered an intimate glimpse into the workings of the plantation, revealing all of the family secrets we found about on the tour.
First off, I made a new feline friend: Lotoya. She was hanging out in front of the house, and I went over to say hello. When we came out of the back of the house, she was waiting for me! The tour guide said she obviously liked me because she doesn’t usually wait for the tour to exit. Cats are so smart! But don’t worry, Smee, I didn’t take her home with me!
I’ll spare you the details about the family tree. Suffice it to say, there were a lot of cousins marrying each other. It turns out that Laura’s great uncle raped a bunch of slaves and fathered many children, and that those are the only familial lines that are still living. There were slave cabins where each family would get one room, no matter how large the family was. Those rooms were way smaller than my apartment… Also, after slavery ended, they all got salaries, but were paid in tokens they could use to purchase things they used to get for free, like food and medication. They could cash out at the end of the year, but most often, no one had any tokens left… and indeed, most probably owed some to the plantation owners. In fact, the last families left the cabins in 1977, which was really eye opening to how long the entrenched racism stayed in the South.
After the tour, we went to the New Orleans Business district, where we got a picture of the Superdome on the way. I had googled Cinco de Mayo and found a block party at this restaurant called Casa Borrega. We listened to the live salsa band while we waited for a table. Then, I had chicken quesadillas for dinner.
Finally, we went back to the Mississippi River to walk off our meal. We walked through Woldenberg Riverfront Park which was open till midnight on Saturdays, but had been closed at 10pm on Wednesday when we were by it. There we found some statues and sculptures and also an artistic Holocaust Memorial, which is not something I expected to find in the South… Of course, we were right by Cafe du Monde, so I had to have a final round of beignets… and while walking back to the car, there were fireworks on the Mississippi River, which was the perfect ending to this part of the trip!
DAY FIVE: SUNDAY, 5/6, MISSISSIPPI, MOBILE, AL
Sunday morning, I woke up early to drive Anne to the airport, then I came back to clean up our Airbnb. Around 10:30 I was ready to embark on my next adventure! First, driving in the South is so fast. The speed limits are all 70, and there are no tolls (!?!) and no cops anywhere, so it was pretty fast getting from place to place.
My first stops were in Mississippi, just so I could check it off my app. I spent an hour or so on Biloxi Beach, chatting on the phone while walking the sidewalk (too small to be considered a boardwalk). Next, I went to the lovely Gulf Islands National Park where I walked around Davis Bayou. I did a half a mile Nature’s Way Loop Trail, which was so nice because it went in a circle. After a half hour, that was enough nature for me, so I crossed the bridge, took pictures of a large alligator in the freshwater pond, then headed to Alabama.
My first Alabama stop was Mobile. My former intern, Kelly, had recommended I go to Battleship Park, so I did. Battleship Memorial Park has all these old World War II vehicles and also some war memorials. Then, there’s the U.S.S. Alabama, which is a battleship that you can tour. Now, I thought it would be very similar to the Intrepid, but for $15 I was willing to do it anyway because I needed to do SOMEthing in Alabama. But it was INCREDIBLE. They basically let you go on the ENTIRE battleship, all 10 levels, and the tour was so easy to follow. They had arrows on the floor and numbers so you didn’t skip anything. It was so very comprehensive, which I really appreciate. Highlights included getting to walk around the entire engine room, getting to touch missiles, going inside a turret (those metal containers where the guns are) and going all the way up to the tippy top where the captain commanded from. Also, the view of the ocean was fantastic.
After the main battleship, I had 10 minutes left to peruse the hanger and the U.S.S. Drum submarine, which was pretty much like the one attached to the Intrepid, so I didn’t feel bad I had to rush.
For dinner, I went to Cathedral Square, which is supposed to be the hip area. Most things were closed on a Sunday night, but I did find the theater and symphony halls. Quite coincidentally, there was a poster for SethFest, which I guess is another Seth’s version of a concert… I ended up having a BBQ Sandwich (my last Southern supper) at a bar called Heroes. Then, I drove to my Airbnb in Montgomery, which was a 2.5 hour drive.
DAY SIX: MONDAY, 5/7, ALABAMA, ATLANTA
My Montgomery AirBnb, which cost only $22 for the night, was so much nicer than the New Orleans one. A really big, comfortable bed! Also, the owner of the house I stayed in had 2 dogs (but they were quiet and docile) and a very friendly cat. I caught up on Westworld, and fell asleep relatively early b/c I was exhausted from sleeping in a closet for 4 nights… I woke up around 10:15 and headed out for my last vacation day.
In Montgomery, I went passed Alabama State University on my way to the Fitzgerald House where Zelda grew up. Sadly, the museum there was closed on Mondays (what can you do?), but I took pictures outside. Then, I went to the brand new National Memorial for Peace and Justice (aka the lynching memorial), which I thought was really well done. There were some harrowing sculptures and they had tombstones listing all the people who were lynched, organized by counties. Then, as you walked in, the tombstones got higher and higher, representing the victims being hanged. There was also a waterfall representing all the nameless people.
Next, I drove an hour to Selma, where I walked over the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge. I walked around Selma’s Civil Rights Memorial Park. Then, I went across the street to the National Voter’s Rights Museum, which was alright. Basically, there was a lot of historical stuff about voters rights with rooms for every race, and one for Suffragettes, and one for Jesse Jackson, and then an Obama shrine at the end. It took about 15 minutes, but I’m glad I went because I felt like I saw some important historical locations in Alabama.
It was time to drive 3 hours to Atlanta, where I returned my car, and Niki picked me up! We went to our traditional dinner at the Cheesecake Factory (at MIT we would go twice a year for our birthdays) where I had chicken fettuccine alfredo (how I missed Italian food!) and then shared a Hershey’s Chocolate Cheesecake, which we DEVOURED. Afterwards, I showed her my pictures (we hooked it up to her Smart TV) and then when she went to bed, I watched Netflix.
I won’t bother to put Tuesday in a separate header. Basically I watched Netflix, HBO, took the MARTA train to the airport, got on my flight, got home and unpacked. Smee was pretty happy to see me; he sometimes gets irascible when I’m gone for awhile, but I don’t think I was gone that long this time because we were copacetic again fairly quickly.
OBLIGATORY BOOK SECTION
Well, as I mentioned in my last ledger, I circled back to a classic. I read Candide, which actually really holds up all these centuries later. (It was also only 100 pages, so I could get my classic requirement out of the way quickly.) I wanted to read more on vacation, but it was too hot and muggy on my Mississippi day to linger. I did get started in this dark comedy novel, Skippy Dies, which was on the list of best books of 2010. (I usually google the best books of a year 3 years after so I can get them all on eBay for a penny each, plus shipping.)
OBLIGATORY MOVIE SECTION
The two movies I watched on the plane rides (one each way) were:
Murder on the Orient Express – This wasn’t as good as I was expecting, but I still enjoyed it, and I had completely forgotten the ending b/c I read the book over a decade ago.
Coco – This movie was SO GOOD. The ending made me cry. 🙁
Other than that, it’s only been a month since my last ledger so I’ve only been the movies once:
Labyrinth – I saw this Jim Henson classic on the big screen!
Avengers: Infinity War – Then, I went to see the big hit movie, and it did not disappoint! I don’t know how we will all make it a year till the conclusion…
OBLIGATORY TV SECTION
A few new shows I’ve watched since the last ledger are:
Barry – this is a great dark comedy on HBO – it already got renewed for season 2, so you don’t have to worry about it being canceled!
On My Block – I binged this Netflix show at Niki’s and I totally am relieved to say this got a season 2, too!
Speaking of shows not getting renewed yet… here are a list of my TV shows on network TV that are on the bubble… We should know by next week, which are canceled, but I’m hoping they all get renewed: Life in Pieces, Speechless, American Housewife, Agents of SHIELD, Gotham and Brooklyn 9-9.
OBLIGATORY THEATRE SECTION
Spring is a busy time for theatre, and even though it hasn’t been so long since the last ledger, here’s the theatre I have seen since:
When Pigs Fly – I’m so happy I got to see my friend, Brian Charles Rooney, in this one night concert of this campy musical.
Mean Girls – My friend won the free pink tickets, so we were front row center for Tina Fey’s adaptation of her movie.
Symphonie Fantastique – Puppetry dancing to Berlioz’s masterpiece.
Transfers – Off-Broadway play about affirmative action.
Rocktopia – Saw my friend, Reji, in the choir of this concert at the Broadway Theater!
Three Tall Women – This revival of the Albee Pulitzer-Prize winning play was INCREDIBLE.
Travesties – I also loved this revival of Tom Stoppard’s insanely brilliant play.
Audra McDonald at NY Philharmonic Gala – OMG, Audra is just incredible, and it turns out they’re putting out a CD of this concert, much like how they put out a CD of Bernadette’s Carnegie Hall concert, which I also attended!
Me and My Girl – Charming revival at Encores of this show I did my Senior Year of high school. Encores’ production was better.
There are a few more shows I’m seeing this month, but I’ll save them for the next ledger. And hopefully by then, I will win the Harry Potter play lottery!
Vacations are so nice. I spend an awful lot of time in my apartment working, so it’s hard to relax here. When I’m somewhere else, I can focus all my energies on figuring out trip logistics, and, thus, I get a hiatus from waiting for my projects to come to fruition. Vacations are essential to my peace of mind and sanity. Speaking of, coming up: my girlfriend and I are taking a weekend trip to New Haven to see Celia in Chicago (the Musical). And in August, I am going to visit Scandinavia: Denmark (to see Tango, I’ve been there before, but I’m going to do different day trips this time), Norway, Sweden, Finland (to see Mike Solomon) and probably a day trip on a ferry to Estonia (thanks, Roger, for the idea!). Is it August yet?
Regardless, summer in the city is my favorite time. So many free things to see, and I can go read books on the highline again!
I hope YOU have the best summer yet! Feel free to send me a note to catch me up on YOUR life.
August 16th, 2018 — Scanning Scandinavia
Happy Ides of August! I’m taking advantage of my jet lag to get both my photos captioned and my ledger written, so I can relax and go to the Delaware beach for the weekend with a clear to-do list. As always, I highly recommend going through my 1,182 photos, but I will send those of you not on the Facebook some highlights.
Before I delve into the recap, there are 3 new videos up from Broadway Meows 10 on youtube.com/sethbh42 if you haven’t seen them yet. And don’t forget to stream or download The Diamond as Big as the Ritz Studio Cast Recording, and buy my newish book, Millennials are Ruining the World! if you haven’t yet.
I had originally been trying to find a subsidized trip to Israel for the summer, but I seem to have aged out of any such things. I figured I should probably go somewhere cooler, anyway. When my mentor, Elliott, passed away, I got in touch with my fellow Summer Theatre alumni Mike Solomon (who started before me AND ended after me). We were talking, and he said he was officially living in Helsinki full-time, and said I should visit. I found a $600 round trip to Copenhagen, and decided I should revisit Tarang (a close friend from grad school) the first weekend, and then do a whirlwind trip through Oslo and Stockholm to end up in Finland for the second weekend. Additionally, I took a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia, meaning I did 5 countries in 12 days! And you are about to hear about it. So read on, MacDuff…
I arrived in Copenhagen at 5pm on Thursday night, and I was at Tarang and Carsten’s by 6pm! Copenhagen’s subway is very convenient. I will say that Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki all have people ride on the honor system (so does Berlin), which I just can’t understand! Apparently the fine is really, really exuberant if you get caught, but it baffles me that most people don’t at least try their luck… maybe it’s just that no one is poor in Scandinavia since the government gives you a minimum salary if you’re unemployed…
Anyway, we had a lovely dinner, and I managed to stay up till 10pm (so I was up for 28 hours)… and then sleep 13 hours till 11am. I probably would’ve slept longer, but apparently Tarang had been knocking on my door for awhile before I finally stirred.
Friday, we set out about biking around. As you’ll no doubt remember from my 2013 recap of Copenhagen, it’s a very big bike city. I’ve never seen so many bikes in any other city! First stop was the Little Mermaid statue because last time I came we didn’t make it till almost sunset, and I got a crappy, crepuscular picture with her. So, this time we got a much better one. Next we biked through Nyhavn to see the lovely canals, passing by an actual draw bridge letting a boat through.
The next stop was the Danish Jewish Museum, a museum that was closed for renovations last time I was in town. After having a bit of trouble finding it, we finally saw it was tucked into a cranny of the library. The door to the building said “Mitzvah” in Hebrew. There were two 10 minute videos, one about the history of the museum and one about the Jewish history in Denmark. Then, there were just 2 rooms of Jewish artifacts. Jews were invited to Denmark early on, and they were mostly tailors and carpenters. There was an influx of immigrants at some point, and then there was a conflict between the rich Dane Jews and the new immigrants. The immigrants lived in tight quarters, 1-2 rooms for families of 5-6. The most important thing for Jewish people was the culture and also reading Jewish papers so they knew what was going on with the world. During WWII, the Danish government tried to put off things like Jews having to wear stars as long as possible, and then smuggled 7000 to Sweden, leaving only 472 who went to the camps, bu they claimed 99% survived.
In the gift shop, I saw a Hasidic Rubber Ducky, and I have now placed him on my TV stand, as a reminder of Tarang and my lovely day.
After the museum, we biked to Reffen, which is according to its webpage, “the new urban playground for co-creation, innovation, food and creativity.” Basically, there were lots of food stands with affordable, delicious dishes. It was also on the riverfront, and it was a beautiful day. I stayed healthy for lunch having a fruit salad and a mango lassi.
After lunch, we biked to Tivoli Gardens. Unfortunately, the main street was very dense with pedestrians, and while I enjoyed speeding through and almost hitting them, swerving at the last minute, Tarang took more time. I stopped to get a free waffle sample, and somehow Tarang got passed me, and then I ended up having to meet her at Tivoli, where thankfully they had free WiFi so I could let her know where I was. We met Carsten and Rune Raj (their almost 2 year old), and went around to most of the kiddie rides after the playground. Last time I came, was before they had a kid, so this time I got to see a completely different section of Tivoli!
For dinner we had Italian food at the same restaurant as 5 years ago. This time, the rain didn’t leak. I’m pretty sure I had the same meal of ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach, and it was still very yum. After that, we got gelato, and I had 2 scoops: pineapple and pistachio (I like to be alliterative when I eat). Rather than stay for the free concert, which didn’t start till 10 and was a Danish rapper none of us were interested in, we went back to their complex and had a quick dip in the pool.
Saturday was very exciting. After an hour of waiting to rent a car, and then realizing you needed to bring your passport (oops!), we finally got our car and then hit massive traffic. Eventually, though, we made it to Møns Klint, which is a 6 km stretch of chalk cliffs on the island of Møn. It was breath-takingly beautiful. I took a lot of amazing photos, and just took it all in. There were 2 main paths, one above the cliffs, and one long staircase to the beach below. The Baltic Sea’s water felt divine, and it was just a lovely outing. After we had our fill of the cliffs, we climbed back up the stairs and then got dinner in town. I had a yummy chicken burger, then gelato again – this time bananas with chocolate and strawberry cheesecake.
We hit no traffic on the way home, so it was a less stressful. It was a pretty fancy car because Carsten somehow got a deal on it. Not only did it have one of those cameras in the back that clicks on when you go reverse, making it easy to parallel park, but it had a start button! No key ignition? And a sun roof. And the gear shift had 6 gears instead of 5!
Sunday, we took it easy. We had brunch at The Laundromat which is restaurant where you can do your laundry while you eat! I had a clean brunch (no meat) of eggs and pancakes, etc, and it was delicious. Afterwards, I basically got a tour of the city’s playgrounds. They had really cute themed playgrounds (viking one, train one), and they actually had toys including a soccer ball, that somehow were NOT stolen! I can’t imagine NYC parks having toys that weren’t missing the next time you went back… early evening, we played in their complex’s playground, and then had a BBQ… oh, and we watched “Like Father” on Netflix, which was just okay.
Monday, I woke up bright and early at 7am to get to the airport. In general, all of the Scandinavian airports were incredibly efficient (probably helps that they are small and have fewer people going through them than Newark) that I found it only took 10-15 minutes to get to my gate. Anyway, I flew into Oslo, landed at 10:30 and managed to get to the 10:43 train into the city, which was about comparable with taking the train into NYC from Newark, price-wise.
Speaking of money, I had to get new currency in each country because only Finland and Estonia were on the Euro. For Denmark, I had to divide by 6, Norway by 8, Sweden by 9 to figure out how many dollars I would be spending. I had a very detailed itinerary and calculated how much I estimated spending in each city, and I’m proud to say I did an amazing job of accurately taking just enough $$ out to not run out and also not have much extra.
After the airport train, I had to take the subway 2 stops to my Airbnb. I found one that wasn’t far from city center for $50 that night. My host was very sweet, and had a keyboard since she dabbles in piano. Speaking of housing, only 1 of the places I stayed had a bathtub. Most didn’t even have shower stalls; there was just a drain in the floor and some dividers to try to keep the water in that area. This one actually had a separate, incredibly tiny room for the toilet, while the shower was in a room with the washer (but no dryer).
I made the mistake in Oslo in trying to rely on the maps in my guidebook (Lonely Planet) and that I printed from GoogleMaps. Oslo is very curvy, and while not as hard to navigate as a place like Paris, was still not a very straight-forward layout. Thankfully, as you all know, I am incredibly good at navigating without a map, but I do wish I had stopped by a hotel to get one. I did not make that mistake in any other city.
Anyway, after dropping off my bag, I went directly to the Munch Museum, which is actually where the subway stop for my Airbnb was. Edvard Much is the most famous Norwegian painter. I enjoyed his work. This museum had 7 rooms of Munch – so much Munch to mooch off of! I took pictures of a dozen of my favorite, and then I went downstairs to see a movie, and caught 4 minutes of it. I was going to stay for the next showing, but that one was in Norwegian without subtitles (!?), so I ended up leaving because I knew I had a pretty full itinerary. I did learn that Munch was considered an outcast for most of his career, but that he persevered and never compromised his vision. He was also incredibly prolific having not much of a social life.
Next, I went to see the famous Oslo Opera House. It was shimmering to see, inside and out. You can walk up the roof for a great view of Oslo. On the way, I stopped by the tiger outside of the Central Station and took a selfie. Next I was hungry, so I stopped by a food cart and got a “Yummi Hungarian Langos” which was a delicious flatbread topped with such things like cheese and red peppers. It was kind of like a sweeter tasting pizza.
I headed to the Arkeshus Fortress, which had a wonderful view of the city and some interesting sculptures. I went briefly through the free museum, and learned that there had been some wars between Norway and Sweden ages ago. Not being a huge history buff, I kind of glossed over the details. I skipped paying to go to the Castle b/c I have seen plenty of castles, but I walked around the courtyard and found where they do Shakespeare in the Park – a stage that had a little pond in front of it…
After that, I walked by the water, through the Marina, and there was this cute little area of restaurants and shops and stuff right there. Unfortunately, I realized it was all self-contained, so I had to circle out of there to get back on back to the Bygdøy Peninsula. (I don’t know how it really is pronounced by I say: BIG DOY!) GoogleMaps said it would take me 70 minutes to walk from the Fortress to the Viking Museum, but it actually took more like 90. The path was down a promenade on the water, which lots of people were jogging and biking on. When I got to the peninsula, the directions went down this nature path, which turned out to be quite idyllic and lined with sheep.
I managed to get the Viking Ship Museum by 4:30 (it closed at 6), but I needn’t have worried about not having enough time because it was pretty small. It consisted of 3 recovered viking ships, which was pretty cool, and then artifacts they found in the ships and on the ships, including some ornate mastheads and actual skeletons. There was also a 5 minute projected animated short following the life of the viking ship.
Once I had met my deadline of getting to that museum by 6, the day got a little less stressful time-wise. I leisurely walked back through the nature path and made a beeline for the Vigeland Sculpture Park. The sculpture park was created by Gustav Vigeland, and was INCREDIBLE. I think this was probably the highlight of my trip. The sculptures were all over, and was a fountain… and lots of nudity! Nude sculptures of people of all ages, in various positions. (Apparently, Americans are very uptight about nudity compared to Scandinavians.) Just masterful, and I took quite a lot of pictures. What a wonderful park, and it’s free and open all night!
Afterwards, I was going to head back towards my AirBnb, but the roads swerved so much, I gave up on the map and just followed signs for city center. I was also starving, so I stopped by Tex Burger to get a quickie meal. Now, I stay away from American fast food chains while I’m on vacation, but I don’t see anything wrong with trying the European ones! Once I was refreshed, I realized since the sun didn’t set till 10pm, that I still had time to take pictures of Oslo City Center (my camera doesn’t work very well in the dark). This way, I could lessen the things to do the next day. Thus, I took pictures of the Royal Palace, Town Hall, the Parliament Building, the National Theatre and the Radhus building, and then I walked back to my AirBnb and called it a night.
Tuesday, I woke up at 9:15, and headed to the Oslo National Gallery. I guess I should’ve hustled a little more because there was a pretty long queue that took 20 minutes to get through. Fortunately, though, the National Gallery is really not that exciting except for 3 rooms. There is a room that has 4 Picasso, though he’s not really my favorite. But in the next room over, there’s some Monet and a Van Gogh (who probably are my favorite), as well as Degas, Rodin, Manet, Renior, Gaughin and Cezanne. There was also some Matisse and Delacroix in different rooms; one of the Delacroix paintings “Lion mauling a Dead Arab” had been removed for conservation, but I feel like it was probably removed for politically correctness.
Anyway, the best room of the museum was obviously the Munch room. Now, I was a little confused because some of the paintings I saw at the Munch museum were in this room, too, but maybe they were earlier versions? Anyway, I made sure to take a few selfies with “The Scream” which is, of course, one of the most famous paintings in the world. Thankfully I got there early enough to do this, because when I circled back after completing the museum, it was quite mobbed. The Norwegian title for the painting is “Skrik” which clearly means “shriek” so I don’t know why it was renamed scream… Anyway, the sign said Munch was interested in eroticism and love, spirit and matter, and anxiety and death, and I obsess over a few of those, so that’s probably why I liked his paintings.
Thankfully, even with the 20 minute delay, I still finished the museum by my deadline of 11:45 so I could to the Ibsen Museum, where they give hourly tours of Ibsen’s final apartment on time. Having read or seen Ibsen’s most famous plays, I was very interested in learning more about him. And I took 2 pages of notes, so here goes…
Ibsen lived in his final apartment for the last 11 years of his life. He didn’t have much luck with playwrighting in Norway because he was a progressive, political, controversial writer, and Norwegian society was conservative, so he made his mark in Germany and Italy. He had late life success, but then a lot of success (giving me hope). While he was a progressive writer, ironically he was really a conservative, uptight and aristocratic person in his actual life. Some theories are that his family lost all its money, so he wasn’t willing to part with his. He had to rise to make up for his father’s fall.
Anyway, the apartment had been converted into a dentist office, but the Ibsen foundation bought it back and restored it. The furniture is 80% original – they were able to get back a lot of items. Ibsen wrote his last 2 plays there, and then suffered a stroke in 1900.
In this office, he had a portrait of his nemesis Strindberg (Sweden’s premiere playwright who wrote with similar themes, though in a more pessimistic vein) so that he could have the “Devil’s eyes” pushing him to greater heights. There was also a portrait of his wife and his son. His wife, Susanna, mostly stayed out of the spotlight, and also didn’t leave the apartment for years because of rheumatism, or perhaps agoraphobia. In any case, she had a library full of books, and also, Ibsen would always read his work to her, and she famously once said something to the extent of “Nora better leave him at the end of the play, or I’ll leave you!” So, her progressive tendencies seeped into Ibsen’s writings.
The decor in the house was different from room to room, as was the color scheme. The office was German, the blue room French, and the red room Italian. However, those were the rooms where they entertained. The backstage area where they lived was mostly sparse. Oh, they also had a Bechstein piano, which is one of the most expensive pianos (cue the song from Merrily We Roll Along – and FYI, I just googled it and the cheapest one I found was for $13K), but it was purely for show. Even though he was good friends with Grieg, he would not let anyone play the piano because music made him “nervous”. The thought of the time was it was just like Ibsen to have a Bechstein piano just as furniture.
Ibsen was the first person in Norway to have a bathtub, and he had a key to the Queen’s private garden (across the street) because he was too famous to be seen in public. His last words were “On the contrary!” remarked to his nurse when she told him he looked a little better.
After touring his apartment, I went through the exhibit which had some of his personal effects – his glasses, business cards, a signed fan for a fan (a fan fan!), and original manuscripts of most of his plays.
From there, I went to the Historical Museum, which had been included in my Viking Ship Museum purchase. This museum was literally one room, so it made sense it wasn’t its own thing. But I did see a really cute Viking rubber ducky for my nephew since I kept the Jewish one for myself.
I went back to city center, and had a turkey sandwich with mozzarella and pesto from Joe & the Juice, another European chain. Then, I had a little money left, so I treated myself to a frozen yogurt, as I walked back to my Airbnb to grab my stuff to get to the airport for my 6pm flight to Stockholm!
My train was delayed 10 minutes to Oslo airport, but I needn’t have worried because my flight was also 30 minutes delayed. I had made a really tight itinerary without realizing flights could be delayed, but it was okay. Getting to Stockholm city center from the airport was a really big pain. They have a list of ways you can do it, but the cheapest (public transportation) takes 80-90 minutes. Since I was already late, I decided to take a bus into the city for about $13. The train was more like $35, and while faster, didn’t seem to be worth it to me for the extra $$. When I got to the transportation hub, it took a few minutes to finally reach the metro. The Airbnb I was staying at (another $50/night with a super-host!) was a good 10 minutes from the metro stop, but I finally reached it.
I put in the door code, and nothing. I ended up having to find WiFi to text the host to find out the code had been changed, and it was listed on the webpage, but she had never messaged that info. Of course, I had printed everything out before I left, and I think the code probably changes the first of every month. When I punched in the right code, both doors swung open like I was visiting Willy Wonka… lights came on, and there were bird sounds all around and a mural of a bird. Anyway, I was quite relieved to be able to get into my room. I dropped my stuff off, and I headed out to dinner.
Unlike Oslo which had most of its restaurants closed by 9pm when I was looking for dinner, Stockholm is much more of a night-owl city. Other differences I noticed besides people being out and restaurants being open, are that the subway does NOT have that stupid honor system, and people actually were jay-walking. In Copenhagen and Oslo (and also Helsinki), people would actually wait at a red light and not cross the street, even if there weren’t any cars coming! Isn’t that just ludicrous? From my first night in Stockholm, I knew I would like this city.
My cousin, Amanda, had lived in Stockholm for a year, so she basically had redone my itinerary completely. (Thanks, Amanda!) She gave me a cafe, Cafe Tralan, to have dinner at in Odenplan, which turned out to be only 15 minutes from where I was staying. Thankfully, it was open till 11pm, and there were still plenty of people there when I rolled in at 10pm for dinner! The meal was exquisite. I had some sort of veal with cranberries and peas and mashed potatoes.
Wednesday, I made myself get up at 7:30 so I could maximize my day. I walked towards the center of town, and took lots of pictures. I passed by the National Theatre, which had a bust of Strindberg in front. Oh, I should mention that I brought my little Swedish Chef with me. He did a photo spread for my Instagram around Stockholm that is must see! (instagram.com/sethbhdotcom – I don’t think you need an account…)
My first stop was the Vasa Museum. I had meant to get there by 8:30, but I got there closer to 8:50. It was still pretty empty, which is not how it was when I was exiting around 10.
The Vasa Museum has the Vasa ship that set sail on August 10, 1628 and sunk shortly thereafter (10 minutes into its journey). It was recovered in 1961 after 333 years under the sea, and then almost completely reconstructed. It was completely majestic. I went to a 17 minute film about the whole process of its history and its discovery and reconstruction. Putting it back together was like the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle. They were even able to find many preserved bodies (some skeletons were on display) where they could analyze what people ate and the illnesses they died of, etc. There were approximately 40,000 artifacts, a lot of which were on display. The outside of the ship featured over 700 sculptures, which also have been mostly reconstructed. When it was found, it was broadcast live on TV as it was brought up from the sea’s bottom. The great irony of the whole thing is that if the ship had never sunk, we would not have had it as a historical relic. Overall, I found the museum very worth going to, and I’m glad every single person I talked to about Stockholm recommended it.
Next stop was ABBA the Museum, which was WAY more fun than I had anticipated! In fact, if you want to see how much fun, go visit abbathemuseum.com before 9/7 and type in 33012606207219 into “My Visit”. I posted most of that stuff on FB, too, and FYI, if you want to hear my karaoke version of “The Winner Takes It All” you have to download it, as it won’t stream properly for some reason.
Anyway, I had a fantastic time at the ABBA Museum, and I learned a lot about ABBA. Did you know that it consisted of 2 couples? The men met first and started working together, but then they met their wives, and it became a foursome. The design was created with the first B backwards to denote the fact it was 2 couples. There were all sorts of activities to do besides reading about ABBA. I did karaoke; I was in a music video; I performed live on stage with an animated ABBA; I did dance moves where my face was imposed on all 4 ABBA members; I conducted some of the score of Chess. There were some music videos, including one with ABBA puppets. It was a super-trooper-fun time! I mean, who knew ABBA existed before Mamma Mia?
I spent almost 2 hours at ABBA the Museum, which put me a tad behind schedule, but I managed to get to Skansen the “the first open-air museum and zoo” by noon. I had to leave by 5pm. I was told that Skansen could take a person all day, but I’m happy to say I saw the entire thing in 4.5 hours. And I even took 20 minutes of that to eat lunch! Speaking of lunch, I had authentic Swedish meatballs, and they were delicious and very filling.
So Skansen is basically like Williamsburg in VA, combined with a zoo. It was a very large enclosure filled with many things, including trying stilts. There are different farms and huts spread out from different eras of Swedish (and sometimes the surrounding areas) history. It started to blend together and got pretty redundant (and redundant) after awhile, but I am a completist, so I made sure to see every single thing on the map (I checked them off as I saw them!). I used the spiral method; I started on the outer circle, and just kept circling till I was in the center, though I did end up going out of order a bit at times. My favorite was obviously seeing live reindeers, but it was a very pleasant, Swedish way to spend the day. Some of the animals were a bit like spotting Waldo because the animal enclosures were very large. Good for the animals, but bad for viewers. Basically you had to look for other people who were pointing when they found them, so it was a very crowd sourced game of Where’s Waldo? or Where’s that Wolf?
I did take a fun dramatic tour of the Skogaholm Manor where the guy pretended we were gardeners. When we went into the manor, we were surprised when one of the staff was hiding in a closet. It was a very innovative way to have folks tour the manor.
Anyway, I was very impressed that I finished Skansen at 4:30, ahead of schedule. I headed to catch a ferry to Vaxholm to see the archipelago on the way, and one the way I decided to check some more things off my list from the next day (good thing I did because I really didn’t have time that day). I found the Stockholm Synagogue (I’m a good Jew!), which was hidden on a tiny street. And I found the Stockholm Opera House (I got pictures of synagogues and opera houses in all 5 countries!). I ended up getting to the ferry just in time for the 5:30 one (I was going to take the 6 originally). Both the 5:30 and the 6 got to Vaxholm around the same time, but the 5:30 was the local, which meant more time on the water!
I took plenty of archipelago pictures, and even more of the sunset on the way back. There were actual tiny islands with houses on them, so people must actually live in the middle of the Baltic Sea. While taking pictures of my Swedish Chef, a Sweden guy got really excited, and said he knew that man but not much about him. He was a very nice guy, and took a picture of the Swedish Chef to show all his friends.
In Vaxholm, since I was still fairly full from the meatballs at lunch, I opted to have some Swedish ice cream. I got the waffle cone with 3 huge scoops: melon, mango sorbet, chocolate chip and rainbow sprinkles! It was pretty huge, and I managed to get an awful lot on my shorts and shirt… oops! I was also happy to see there was a live polka band right there on the water. I found this a little ironic because I had spent weeks trying to find some music or show to see that night in Stockholm, and here I just stumbled right upon one! I didn’t know any of the Swedish songs, but most of the people did, and it was a really nice evening. I was also happy to discover that the Vaxholm Hotel had free WiFi that reached where I was waiting to take the ferry back to Stockholm. All in all, a very pleasant hour spent there, and a lovely sunset-filled ferry ride home.
After being out for 13 hours, I collapsed after walking home (passed live music at at TGI Fridays on a Wednesday night at 11pm!?). The next day, I had to get up at 8:45 to get to a free walking tour of Old Town, Gamla Stan, by 10am. I’m really glad I took this tour because I never would’ve found the sites we saw by myself!
The first thing that the tour guide mentioned was that Swedish street names are very logical. There was a “Little New Street” and a “Little Old Street”. The street where priests used to live is called “Priest Street”, etc. We saw The Night’s Church (the big green one I took pictures with) where all the royals are buried. We saw the Palace. She let us know fun facts like Swedish meatballs were actually stolen from Turkey. She showed us buildings with an insurance insignia. There were a lot of fires back then, and if your house didn’t have the symbol showing you had insurance, they would just let your stuff burn.
Swedish people aren’t very religious, but they love festivals about Swedish pride. There’s a big one midsummer called Midsummer, where people all where white and they have parties celebrating the fertility of the earth (as opposed to the futility).
I learned that Fika is Swedish (it’s a coffee chain in NYC now) and basically means, take a break, have a coffee and a cinnamon bun! Swedes are very big on relaxation.
We saw a building with lopsided windows because half the building is sinking. We saw lots of troll stores (trolls are the Swedes version of elves). We saw the drunk street, Osterlaggata, which is called that because it’s hard to walk on uneven cobblestones, and the buildings look tipsy b/c they’re also uneven, but also because drunk people stumble down it often late at night because it’s a main thoroughfare. We saw the smallest statue in Sweden: The Little Boy Standing at the Moon. People leave coins for the boy for good luck, but they mostly go to drunk bums. We saw a hotel that had a big hook on the outside because they used to haul up luggage that way before there were elevators. Apparently, one night they even hoisted a few drunk men up, as well. We walked down the smallest street in Stockholm, saw a house half of ABBA used to live in, and a statue of George and the Dragon. It was a really interesting tour, and totally worth the price of free (though, of course I tipped rather well).
Afterwards, I took a picture at the Nobel Museum, filled my water in a free fountain in Stortorget Square, then went to the tiny Wooden Horse Museum, which was basically just a store selling really pretty wooden horses. I saw a marching band outside the palace’s church, but couldn’t stay because I had a 3:45pm flight. For lunch I had a cinnabun (to have a fika!) and a very strange version of a pizza, which was actually very yummy and probably healthier than pizza here. Then, I walked and circled back to the subway. Since the subway pass is good for 75 minutes, I was able to get to my Airbnb, grab my stuff, and then get back on the subway for the same fare!
Since I didn’t want to pay so much to go back to the airport, I ended up taking the Flix Bus (which is Europe’s Megabus) for only $4. They only have buses 4 times a day, but thankfully, one of the times was perfect for my flight. I hustled like crazy to get there in time, and my flight was delayed an HOUR! And to make matters worse, there was a smoker booth right by my gate. They have this booth where 8 smokers can go kill themselves with fumes in the middle of the airport in both Stockholm and Helsinki – how disgusting is that?
I got into Finland at 6:50 after losing both an hour with the delay, and an hour with the time change. I was supposed to go to Mike’s wife’s concert at 7pm. Mike was waiting for me at arrivals (sadly without a giant sign with my name), and we ran into a cab. By some miracle, the church the concert was at was only 10 minutes from the airport. We got there at 7:03. If we were in NYC, we would’ve missed nothing, but this being Finland, the concert started on time. However, we still only ended up missing like the first 20 seconds, because it takes a few minutes for a choir to settle on the stage! PHEW!
Mike’s wife, Mirjam, is in Finland’s premiere choir, known as the best one, which gets the most funding from the country. (Finland, like a lot of Europe, is very supportive of the arts.) They sang madrigals by Carlo Gesualdo and Salvatore Sciarrino – Finnish composers I had never heard of. They also did a setting of a Sylvia Plath poem by modern composer Claudio Ambrosini, who I also had never heard of. That setting was incredibly 21st Century (written in 2003) and the amount of dissonant semitones was pretty rampant. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed the concert. The choir’s intonation was simply incredible! The pieces resonated very nicely in the church, and I was really happy I made most of the concert on time. You don’t really see this kind of small choir singing in NYC, so it was definitely something special to me, as I’m really into classical music of all centuries. The audience was very quiet, very sustained, respectful applause, but no big whoops or ovations. I’m told that is very Finnish. The church’s WC was in the back in a separate building, but at least it wasn’t an outhouse (more on that soon).
We picked up their kid, Maja, and then got groceries so I could eat dinner (I was starving). Mirjam made me a delicious omelette with cheese, tomatoes and broccoli, and then I retired because I was exhausted.
Friday, I woke up and went into Helsinki with Mike who dropped Maja off at the Synagogue where she has shul. So I got to see the inside of the Helsinki Synagogue. Next, I walked up to the Rock Church, which is basically a church where the outside is made of rock. It was pretty beautiful, and they had a pianist playing some Chopin. Very relaxing. Next I walked up to Sibelius (famous Finnish composer) Park and took a few selfies with the Sibelius Monument there. After that, I walked down some lovely water paths to get to the center of town. I took my obligatory picture of the Helsinki Opera House, and then ended up at the Kiasma, Museum of Contemporary Art.
The highlight of Kiasma for me was a 52 minute film that was projected on 3 screens with 2 of them rotating by 2 puppets Geb and Atum. It was a zany, quirky, weird, perverted film that included a lot of puppetry (sometimes more graphic than Ave Q), animation, wacky songs, a bunch of non-sequiturs, some timey-wimey-ness and a huge special-temporal paradox. Thankfully the film was in English! Thanks to the Finnish subtitles, I learned the word for shit is PASKA! That’s the only Finnish I retained on my trip. Anyway, I really enjoyed the movie, which was obviously partly Muppet inspired.
The museum had a floor dedicated to a British artist I’ve never heard of called Grayson Perry. Another floor had contemporary art from the Baltic Sea region, including a raft made of beer cans by an Estonian artist named Karel Kopliments. There was a screening room for these very penis-filled videos with some actual gay sex and some mutilation. I left that room pretty quickly.
After the museum, I walked through Senate Square, saw another big church, went to the market area (I kept calling it market place), and took a ferry to Suomenlinna, which is a bunch of islands in the archipelago that were used as a defensive fort in a few wars. I ended up starting with the most secluded island, and it was really idyllic – there was a perfect view of Helsinki’s skyline, lots of beaches, rocks to climb around, some birds, and way fewer people than the other 3. I had a really nice time, but then went back to the other islands to see the sites. I made sure to see all of the highlights the guide said to hit: Suomenlinna Church, the Great Courtyard, Dry Dock (where they used to build fleets), Kusaanmiekka (the original bastion for defense) and the King’s Gate on the far end on the main island. It was definitely worth traveling to. There were 6 mini-museums to see, but they were pretty tiny, and I was all museumed out by that point and didn’t feel like either paying for another one or going to another one. I am very happy that I made that decision because I probably would’ve had a lot more pages of notes if I had gone to it…
I managed to catch the ferry back by 30 seconds. Then, on Mike’s recommendation, I walked down to South Helsinki to see some of the unique parks and architecture further away from the touristy parts. It started to rain a bit, so I hustled back to the subway to get back to Mike’s for Shabbat dinner, where I found Mirjam making Challah from scratch! We had a very yummy dinner, and then took a stroll to see the Baltic Sea in Mike’s backyard before calling it a night.
Saturday, we left Espoo (another name for what I call what I despot in a toilet) to spend the weekend in Lohja. Mirjam’s friend kindly offered us her cabins in the woods to spend a lovely weekend completely off-the-grid. My little rustic cabin didn’t even have electricity, let alone WiFi… and the cabin was on a lake. So we went swimming in the kind of chilly lake, and then hit the authentic Finnish sauna, which was actually in a wooden cabin itself! And then after being in the really hot sauna, we went back in the lake, and we repeated that a few times. It was incredibly relaxing. Thankfully, Mike is an American, so we kept our bathing suits on. Apparently nudity is very standard for saunas. Sauna actually comes from a Finnish word, so they basically invented them.
The only issue I had with my cabin was the low doors (Finnish people must’ve been short 150 years ago when it was built) and I kept banging my head. 🙁 Also, there was no bathroom, so we had to use an outhouse, where they had some stuff you were supposed to put on your S-poo after you finished. Um, let’s just say, I held it all, and stuck to peeing in the woods. There were also a lot of sheep there, which were apparently going to be slaughtered the next week. We had turkey sausages for dinner, and I ended up having to read by candlelight after they all went to bed.
Sunday it was raining in the morning, but since my Calm app that I use for sleep is rainfall, it was literally like being in my app! I fell back to sleep and didn’t get up till almost 11. Apparently The Simpsons is very popular in Finland because there was a marathon of older ones from the 90s on all day. We left after lunch and after cleaning the cabin (well, they cleaned, and I read my book because I was almost done with it).
When we got back to Espoo, Mike suggested we take a ferry to this island in the archipelago, Vasikkasaari. There was a really nice nature path around the island, and the views of the Baltic Sea were very nice. We even saw a whole swan family!
Monday, I went to go to my fifth country… Estonia! I took a ferry to its capital, Tallinn. By the way, every single country I went to has fewer people in the whole country than NYC. On the way to the ferry, I took some pictures of this statue of a peeing man.
I took the Tallink ferry for 2 hours. It was super swanky! They had all these different areas, lots of food, WiFi, jackpot machines I had to keep myself away from… there was even a live band! It was a very lovely way to travel.
My first stop in Tallinn was the KGB Museum in the Viru Hotel. I had gotten the ticket a month earlier. Sadly, all the tickets to later English tours were already sold out, so I had to do the 1pm. The ferry got in at 12:30, but it took 10 minutes for them to open the door. Mike had this suggestion I never would have thought of before – rather than walking 30 minutes and being late – why not take… a cab!? It never would’ve occurred to me because I don’t tend to do things like that, but I did, and it was only 6 Euro (the subway from Mike’s apartment in Zone 2 was 5 Euro!).
I had read the reviews, so I knew to go in with low expectations. This “museum” basically consisted of going to the top floor of the hotel, which had a great view from the balcony, plus 2 rooms with actual spy stuff. It was kind of like being in an underwhelming episode of “The Americans”. Anyway, the Viru hotel was build by the Finns, who were the main tourists to Tallinn, in 1972. They were commissioned by the Russians since this was during the Iron Curtain and the Cold War. They had to leave all this space in the concrete for hidden microphones and microphone receivers. The Viru Hotel was a hip spot, and basically the only spot foreign tourists could go. They had a very popular nightlife including a few bars and a wildly popular cabaret show featuring the town’s best ballet dancers and opera singers. Celebrities who flocked to the hotel included Liz Taylor and Neil Armstrong. They were also renowned for their cakes, and both those and cabaret show tickets could be bartered for many things in Tallinn.
All of the drivers were KGB who spoke multiple languages, and the only way to leave Tallinn was to use one of these drivers. Basically, this was the only space for foreigners to be, so the KGB had a good time overhearing everything and anything going on.
For instance, if you were out of toilet paper, you could just tell your partner, “Hey, we’re out of toilet paper!” and a few minutes later, someone who knock on the door and present toilet paper.
Upstairs where the museum was were 2 KGB offices that were left in a hurry. There was a copy machine that you needed permission to use because so much was censored. There was a direct KGB phone, which was very heavy because it was solid so you couldn’t put a bug in it. There was a book of complaints which was only compliments because if there was a complaint about you, they’d make you work in the wine cellar where you couldn’t get tips. We went into the second room which said in Russian on the door “Here is nothing”. This one had actual spy equipment: microphones, receivers, they had a camera that was used for spying which had a long tube that would go through the wall leading to the tiny lens that would be hidden, and then the actual camera. There was a sample ashtray and plate that had holes in their bottoms for microphones. There was a phone that had its microphone bug obviously removed in a hurry. There was a little purse of red paint that would spray if you looked in it. That was a way to test that people were keeping their secrets. If you were caught literally red-handed, you were immediately fired.
Overall, as expected from the online reviews I found, this museum was a bit underwhelming and overpriced. However, I took a lot of pictures of the amazing view, and that one room with some spy equipment was pretty cool.
After that, I went to Old Town, and walked around the twisting roads taking pictures of all the fancy buildings including a bunch of churches and cathedrals. Tallinn is a lovely place to meander around for a few hours. I took a lot of pictures to make my friend, Roger, jealous. I passed so many statues and stuff. I went all the way up the stairs to get a really good view of the city. There were historical plaques on basically every building. A lot of them were built in the 1300s! I found the Theatre Museum which was sadly closed on Monday (most of the museums were, but I was really done seeing museums at that point anyway). I found a really cute cat magnet that said Estonia in a tiny souvenir shop away from the main area. I treated myself to freshly squeezed orange + grapefruit juice, and then to a banana/Nutella cupcake and a pistachio macaron, both of which were ridiculously delicious. (I followed the advice of my song “Eat Dessert First!”)
I had decided that I wanted to find a haircut in Estonia for around 10 Euro, so that I had one less thing to take care of when I got home. And I managed to! That’s $11 for a haircut that I would’ve paid $23 for in NYC! I just manifested it, and then I turned the corner and there was a salon. I asked the woman how much to buzz my hair shorter, and she said 10 Euro! Amazing!
After walking around a bit more to make sure I hit all of the stops specified on the maps, I went to a restaurant that was recommended in my guidebook. I figured since I paid $7 for it, I should definitely make use of it. The restaurant was called Leib, and it was fantastic! All of their food is made from all natural, all local sources. I had rhubarb lemonade, zucchini soup (with cilantro and toasted sunflower seeds) and then Estonian beef fillet with roasted vegetables in horseradish broth. It was phenomenal.
After that, I headed over to the new Rotermann district and Rotermann Square. Next, I had seen a little Star of David on my map, so on the way back to the ferry, I checked out the Estonian Synagogue, which also had a (closed) Jewish Museum attached. Finally, I made it back to the ferry early, then had a relaxing trip back looking at the sunset (which I braved the smoking section to get a few pictures of) and read.
Tuesday, I left Mike’s around 8am (1am EST) and 21 hours later… I was home!
Here’s what I’ve read this summer so far, the last 2 on my trip:
Skippy Dies – Wonderful novel filled with dark humor.
The History of Bees – Celia leant me this one, and it was okay, but not my favorite.
Robin – New biography about Robin Williams, which was enlightening but also very sad.
Fresh Complaint – One of my favorite author, Jeffrey Eugenides’ new collection of short stories.
The Final Solution – Quick Chabon book. Not my favorite.
All the Light We Cannot See – There is a reason this book won the Pultizer Prize. A bit contrived at times, but it was a beautiful story.
Norwegian Wood – Read this Japanese book by Haruki Murakami, and it was one of the best books I have ever read. A poetic, poignant coming-of-age story. Highly recommended!
Bandstand – I guess I’ll count this as movie, b/c that’s where I saw it. I hadn’t seen the show on Broadway, so I was happy to see it at Fathom Events in HD.
Incredibles 2 – I found this sequel a bit predictable, but nevertheless enjoyable.
And on the plane I watched:
Molly’s Game – Fantastic movie. Fantastic.
A Wrinkle in Time – Very disappointed that this wasn’t that good b/c I loved the book as a kid.
Isle of Dogs – ZZzzzzzz I fell asleep multiple times in this slow movie.
Tully – I wanted to like this one more than I did, but it had some funny lines.
Love, Simon – I really enjoyed this high school romantic comedy about two gay teenagers coming out. Really cute!
The Breadwinner – This is a foreign film that got great reviews, and it was basically a Yentl story of a girl in Afghanstan under Taliban rule.
The Happy Prince – This movie about Oscar Wilde looked promising from its description, but it was a snooze-fest. In fact, I would’ve fallen asleep if it hadn’t been for the crying baby in the row in front of me wailing so much during the 8 hour flight.
There has been a dearth of shows this summer. I have taken the time to catch up on some streaming shows. Here’s a few summer shows I enjoyed:
UnREAL – I love this show, and they realized the 4th season on Hulu unexpectedly. I binged it in 2 nights.
Black Mirror – This show is so dark that I only call what’s happening up to the penultimate twist.
Altered Carbon – Finally caught up on this Netflix Sci-Fi show, and really liked it. Happy it’s getting a season 2!
The 100 – It was really great this summer, and I cannot believe they’ve had another game changer for the upcoming season 6!
Trial & Error – the first season of this show with Jon Lithgow is hilarious, but adding Kristin Chenoweth for season 2 makes it even more hilarious.
Colony – RIP, I really liked this show that got canceled.
In other August news, Better Call Saul and The Sinner are back, but I haven’t had time to start them yet. I look forward to both.
Shout out to Reji who was in 2 episodes of Orange is the New Black this season!
I am really not adding many shows this fall. I’m really underwhelmed. I might try Manifestation, which is supposed to be like LOST, but I suspect it’ll get canceled if I start to like it… if you have any fall shows, do let me know…
Here’s a list of the shows I’ve seen on the stage since the last ledger:
St. Joan – Broadway revival of this Shaw classic about Joan of Arc
Summer and Smoke – Nicely staged and very well-acted revival of a Tennessee Williams play.
Broadway by the Year 1956/1975 – Fun times at Town Hall.
The Beast in the Jungle – I talked to John Kander (who is 91!) after this lovely dance play he wrote the music for. I told him I was a composer, too, and he said the most important thing was that I had fun when I wrote.
Paradise Blue – Great off-Bway play.
Peace for Mary Frances – Lois Smith is amazing to watch on stage.
Chicago – We went to New Haven to see Celia in the tour of Chicago.
Skintight – Idina stars in a really funny play.
Fruit Trilogy – Eve Ensler’s new play had some great moments.
Romeo & Juliet (NY Classical Theatre) – My favorite Shakespeare company in the summer, going around to different areas of the park for each scene.
Mary Paige Marlow – Tracy Letts’ new play.
Desperate Measures – Charming musical version of Measure for Measure set in the Wild West.
Mummenshanz “You and Me” – Having seen this clown troupe on The Muppet Show, I was excited to see them in person.
Carmen Jones – Fantastic production of this version of the opera Carmen by Oscar Hammerstein II.
Straight, White Men – Broadway play addressing such issues as white privilege.
Twelfth Night (Shakespeare in the Park) – Musical adaptation and modernization of the Shakespeare classic.
So there you have it, I have Finnished this ledger! Scandinavia is a lovely, non-humid place with picturesque skylines and an abundance of nature. The people there are very happy, as the government pays for everything (in exchange for high taxes). If I had to pick a favorite city out of the ones I visited, it’d be… Stockholm! Probably b/c it’s the one that resembles NYC the most.
I guess I should do a quick few sentences on the fall. We are hopefully doing a new music video this September. I’m also accompanying 3 solo shows in September. Additionally, I’m taking classes to try to segue my career into TV/film more. I have signed up for a UCB Improv class, and a Scene Study acting class so far, and I plan to also take a voiceover class. There have been rumblings that things will be happening with various projects, but it’s very much a “hurry up and wait” kind of thing. Eventually, something will break, and then the thought is everything I’ve ever done will all hit at the same time. Until that happens, I’m going to resume weekly regular showcases in October. Finally, we are moving the 10th Annual Broadway Can! to the new, swanky Green Room 42 space. We are going to have a full band, as well. The date for that is Sunday, November 11th at 9:30pm! I know it’s late, but there’s NO food/drink minimum, so I hope that helps to encourage you to attend.
Before I sign off, I do want to thank Tarang, Carsten & Rune Raj for hosting me in Copenhagen, Michael, Mirjam & Maja for hosting me in Finland, and Lauren for making sure Smee wasn’t lonely or hungry. Also, thanks to my 2 AirBnb hosts: Susanne and Jofrid whose reviews say: “A good guy. Respectful and polite.” and “It was a pleassure having Seth as my guest. Always welcome back.”
So, there you have it. Thanks as always for reading; feel free to respond to let me know what you are up to!
I hope you all have a wonderful fall!