We loved our eight-week summer vacation in Europe, but we were excited to come home, too. The odd thing was that we knew we’d only be back for a month, as we had made plans to go to Germany with friends for Oktoberfest. But we packed a lot in during our home respite and I figured I’d memorialize some of the highlights here before leaving for Germany tomorrow.
First up the Saturday after our return was hosting a birthday party for our friend Constantine, the Musical Director and Principle Conductor of the New York City Opera. It was going to be a small affair, maybe 25 or at most 30 people, so Mark & I treated it as an experiment: could we pull off a party like that, with lots of food, without caterers? And the good news is, yeah, we can do it. Mark took responsibility for all the dishes and glasses and drinks and charcuterie and veggies, while I did all the actual cooking. That seemed to be a pretty fair distribution of labor, though the next time – with all the glasses and plates and flatware now purchased – we would likely share more of the cooking.
As for the party, it was great fun. As we knew he would, Constantine brought a few singers and as we’ve noted before there is absolutely nothing like live opera in your own living room. The guests were all his friends but increasingly we’ve started to get to know some of them a little better and they’re always fascinating. Like the former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia (which is how Constantine knows him) currently awaiting Senate confirmation to become the Ambassador to Nigeria. So who knows, Mark & I may be off to Abuja sometime in the next year or two just to hang out.
In all good food, great music, fun company. But oh God, after all that prep, was I tired the next day.
Next up was actually seeing Constantine and his company in action. A couple nights every summer they perform a free opera in Bryant Square Park, and we were in town for Lucia di Lammermoor, a 19th century opera by Donizetti. It’s a story where a beautiful young woman is forced by her family to leave the love of her life to marry another man. Sad. But then on their wedding night she stabs him to death and appears onstage in her white nightgown drenched in blood, having gone mad. She spends like 15 minutes singing and dying, appears to die, then gets back up and spends another 10 minutes dying.
It’s actually a fabulous scene and the lead soprano, Sarah Coburn, was spectacular. The voice of an angel (although, as an aside, her late father, a Republican Senator from Oklahoma, was less of an angel…). And two of the soloists on stage had performed at our house the weekend before, so that was pretty cool.
We’ve been wanting to branch out in our cultural explorations and the very next night we had a chance. Analia Farfan is a professional dancer who, among other things, performs with the opera group who we’ve hosted here twice. She was putting on a tribute to Anna Pavlova, the great early 20th century Russian ballerina. The show was really great, the sort of thing that you can’t believe you get to see for just $35 a ticket. Altogether there were maybe eight or 10 dancers all doing numbers associated with Pavlova. Another success.
Meanwhile my sister Becky was in town that weekend too, bringing her daughter Lily back to Barnard College to start her sophomore year. Sadly, no pictures of them: they were all busy moving back into the dorms and all that stuff.
The excitement continued with Shakespeare in the Park, this year an adaptation of As You Like It. Now, it’s funny that Mark & I keep going to Shakespeare in the Park, since neither of us particularly like Shakespeare. But Shakespeare in the Park is such a cultural … thing … that you somehow just have to. And this adaptation was very loose and very fun. And there you are in Central Park, sitting under the stars watching this great show.
Our month at home even included a quick trip to DC. Way back in 1979 I was awarded a scholarship from the Harry S. Truman Foundation, the third year of its existence. The grant was made to one sophomore in each state who indicated an interest in public service, so it was kind of a big deal. Well, this was the 45th anniversary of the foundation’s founding and they were doing a big party at the residence of the French Ambassador to the United States. Who could miss that?
The event itself was fun, but most impressive is that the residence was just amazing. We saw a couple friends from Truman world, met some new friends and in general had fun. The next morning, because Mark & I had been sponsors of the event, we had breakfast with a select group from the foundation, including Clifton Truman Daniels, the former president’s grandson. Heard lots of fun stories about growing up with the old guy as your grandfather. Interestingly, Clifton occasionally performs a one-man play, Give ’em Hell, Harry!, that starred James Whitmore when it was first produced in 1975. Now I have a fantasy of getting him to do it here and inviting a bunch of Truman Scholars who live in New York. Stay tuned.
Dinner that night was with great old friends who we love to see and then it was back to New York. Now we’re packing and getting stuff ready for another two-and-a-half weeks in and around Bavaria. One day of serious beer-drinking is in store but then a couple weeks of exploring places we haven’t been to before. Should be fun!