Being Shot out of a Cannon

The International Arts & Ideas Festival wrapped up tonight after 3 weeks of performances, events, lectures, exhibits, tours, and general good feeling.  My last volunteer gig was with L’Homme Cirque–the one man circus.  Combining mime, clowning, tight rope walking, and bonne amie, this circus appealed to all ages.

David Dimitri has brought his act, his tent, and his high wire with him to the U.S., starting with New Haven.  If he comes your way, don’t miss him.

I saw something I’d never seen before–a man being shot out of a cannon.  You do have to see it to believe it!

All Things Egypt

My first time to the Peabody Musuem, and who can ignore the dinosaurs?

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But I was there for a curator walk-through of Echoes of Egypt, or to translate, how Egyptian art and iconography has lived, resurfaced, and been appropriated through the ages.

Now I know that you have that same burning question I did.  How do you know which direction to read those hieroglyphics.  Is it left to right?  Right to left?  Or in columns?  Yes.

Okay, so here’s how you know which direction to read.  You find the bird figure and read toward the face/beak of the bird.

Got it?  So read away!

On to deathly serious matters.  Why Egyptian in New Haven?  Well, the Egyptian Revival Grove St Cemetery Egyptian Gatesfrom the mid-1800s was a huge hit here.  Henry Adams designed these gorgeous gates in the 1840s as the entry to the Grove Street Cemetery, featuring the graves of notables like Noah Webster and Eli Whitney.  The attraction to Egyptian was that it predated Christ, Mohammed, and Buddha, so was inclusive.  Anyone could be buried beyond these gates.


Even today, the Egyptian motif is popular for headstones.

Egyptian Marker







I loved the sphinx from the exhibit, from Medieval Italy in the 1200s.

Remarkably, the sphinx was recreated by its host museum Viterbo, Museo Civico and Yale architecture students into the reproduction you see here.  Something like 3D laser images produced in marble parts that were assembled into the whole.  Modern technology can be awesome, and a bit unimaginable, can’t it?

Since I’m interested in all things American, I was fascinated by the mummy un-wrappings that became the pop culture hits in Boston in 1850 and Philadelphia, which admittedly has a long history of passion for oddities, in 1851.   For $5, you could attend three evenings worth of lectures and mummy un-wrappings, conducted by the Brit George Glidden.

When Gidden un-wrapped a female mummy, or so s/he was advertised, he was a bit embarrassed to discover a contrary appendage.  Whoops.  He misread the hieroglyphics.  Fortunately, that will now never happen to you!  On display, is a female figure and a male coffin, since apparently the parts were mixed and matched when sold.  Mrs. Barnum bought these for P.T., and my guess is they didn’t care one bit.

Violet Oakley was an American illustrator and part of a group of women artists known as the Red Rose Girls.  In the late 1800s, they lived together, perhaps in a Boston marriage arrangement, in a house called the Red Rose and worked professionally as illustrators.  Oakley made a career illustrating children’s books, but I was really taken with the above image, a study for an altarpiece called The Life of Moses.   She is connecting Moses to his Egyptianness, but there’s also a strong Madonna and child motif, as well as PreRaphaelite influence working here.  It’s an arresting, odd piece of androgyny.

The exhibit is filled with objects that approach the beauty of the ancient, as well as the real thing, like this gilded mummy mask.

You may want to join me in becoming an Egyptosophist, invested in the magic and mystery of all things Egyptian!

The House I Live In

The House I Live InWhen I first started watching “The House I Live In,” I thought, “oh, I know all about this.”  Now, after watching this fast-paced, compelling documentary on the ‘War on Drugs’, I am humbled, saddened, and ashamed.

Taking a very intelligent, systemic, carefully presented approach to an issue we’re all familiar with, the film continued to take me deeper into the complex ways humans target the Other.  The film lays out a human historical narrative, comparing, for example, the Holocaust and the War on Drugs, as “roads to destruction” continually repeated.

The documentarian started asking questions when he had an adult understanding that this War had a direct effect on his beloved housekeeper, ironically named Nanny.  He grew up, with her, in New Haven, which is probably the best city in my experience for demonstrating the societal problems we have created and my personal complicity.

I know that these comments may make you want to turn away to some summer fun.  I don’t blame you.  But if you are a fan of “The Wire,” this film serves as an update, with David Simon as one of the major commentators.  I loved and appreciated that harrowing series, and this film goes to the next step, boldly stating what I don’t think any American would want to admit.  If you’re willing to go there, as hard as it is, I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

Horrors of being Stuck

New Haven was the tryout location for New York and Broadway for many years, and the city still enjoys remarkable theater.  If tonight’s experience was at all typical, then I’m in for a good ride.

As part of the three week Arts & Ideas Festival, Stuck Elevator has returned after its premiere two years ago.  Seven years in the making, the young composer and lyricist have created a riveting, unique experience, mashing up opera and hip hop.  I know, I thought it sounded pretty awful, too, but somehow this blending really worked.

Based on the true experience of a Chinese illegal immigrant called “The Take-Out Man” in a fantasy/nightmare sequence (because he is a take out delivery man), Stuck recounts his 81 hours trapped in an elevator in a Bronx apartment building.  As he becomes more delirious, we journey with him through the harrowing voyage to the U.S., memories of his family in China, and the impossibilities of his life in America and hole he all too easily dug for himself.

Gloriously sung in both English and Mandarin by the Korean-American tenor Julius Ahn, Guang broke my heart over and over.  Then at the end, when for whatever reason the elevator mysteriously began working again at 3 a.m., hunched over, he silently walks out of the “elevator” space and off the stage.  The end.  Talk about an invisible man.

The talented cast included a Latino tenor who can rap and play a Bronx drag queen and equally talented singers playing several roles.  Then there’s the embodied elevator “Otis” that takes on Guang, “The Take-Out Man” in a visually stunning wrestling match.  The percussion with chop sticks would give Stomp a run for its drumming.  All this in a tiny black box theater in New Haven.

This one has a big future.  Watch out for it.

Tales from the Crypt

The International Arts & Ideas Festival starts today, and before volunteering at the Made-in-Connecticut panel, I went on a tour of the crypts of Central Church.

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The church got its name because it’s the center church of three on the New Haven Green, and one of two United Churches of Christ there.  But it was the first and only for about 100 years of New Haven’s history.  Established in 1638, the first pastor John Davenport made his first sermon on “Temptation in the Wilderness.”  I can’t really imagine what those temptations would have been.  I think most would have been focused on staying warm through the winter.

The current church is new, only 190 years old, and is the fourth meeting house for Central Church, serving not only as a church, but also a location for lectures, concerts, forums, and other public meetings.  Daniel Webster was one of the first to hold a political meeting at the church, which has had its share of notables among the congregants like Eli Whitney, Samuel F.B. Morse, and Noah Webster.

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The chandelier and Tiffany stained glass were site specific to this new building.





But what makes this place creepy fun is that it was built over the original cemetery of more than 5000, all buried in The Green. With a big rain this spring, one old tree’s roots were washed up along with the bones of several bodies!

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2013-06-15 11.01.26The earliest date that I see for someone buried below the church is 1687.

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Some of those who died before were relocated to the large cemetery a few blocks away.  In 1812, Sarah the wife of the minister was last to be buried on The Green, now part of the crypt.






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Benedict Arnold’s first wife was buried here in 1775, before she had any reason to be embarrassed about her merchant husband turned soldier then traitor.




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The crypt offers a lesson in tombstone art.  The earliest tombstones were decorated with vicious looking sculls with wings, for returning the soul to God.



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Then the scull became less scary and was shown with a crown, as a king in heaven.

The inscriptions were often elaborate, as for the “painful mother of 8” with an angel on the tombstone.  I should say so!

Some had ‘vanitas’ sayings, such as the Latin for “as you now stand, so once did I”–worth remembering that people roved among these tombstones on The Green, so that reminder was to live well.

One of the founders of Yale in New Haven (where there was free land; Yale was moved after its formation in Old Saybrook, CT) lost several children as infants, as well as two wives before marrying the woman who would outlive him.  The infants are buried together 2013-06-15 11.37.00with headstones and footstones.  Tombstone size was not connected to age of the deceased, but rather to the purse.  Some children had the largest stones and even tabletop markers–the most expensive.






With the festival today, The Green is full of life–a one-man circus, a series of concerts, food vendors, buskers, sunshine, and lots and lots of living people.  They may not know who’s just below their feet…

A Maine Day

My friend Cathie came down from Portland, ME to meet me in Kennebunkport, ME for lunch.  A rainy day in New Haven was a beautiful day in Maine.  Check out the sights by our restaurant.  Enjoy this Maine-r break…ah…



our restaurant




Kennebunkport 2



the pier by the restaurant




Kennebunkport 3






Lobster Traps




new kind of lobster traps








the lighthouse on the point





Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries

All About Goodspeed

Goodspeed Opera House is 50 years old, sitting pretty on the Connecticut River.  The house itself feels a bit saggy, as well as charming.  You can imagine it–the well worn seats, the raised stage like in your high school auditorium, the sound of tappers warming up before the orchestra hit its first note.

I thought, “it’s okay.  I’ll just leave at intermission.”  That is, until the show started.  Each cast member was the perfect physical type for the role and could sing and dance.  Beef, the football player, can jete!  And they make the most of the tiny stage by choreographing up, not out.

No wonder the New York Times ventures out to review its three summer musicals.

The show Good News gave Ginger Rogers her break out role when it premiered in the 1920s.  Later, June Alyson was in a lukewarm movie version, but she’s pretty adorable.  If you are into the video thing, this hilarious 1930 version is much more in the spirit of the show I saw today.  This young, frothy cast has done them all proud.

A Musical Comedy

The songs by DaSilva, Brown, and Henderson, not exactly household names, are a delight, with a bunch of standards set in a perfectly silly book.  There are some good lines though:

“Love is for idiots,” says the astronomy student.

“Yeah, they’re better at it than we are,” laments the astronomy professor.

Each song is a wow, several with improbably good dancing.  “You’re the Cream in My Coffee” is the perfect love song, sung by the football coach and astronomy professor, as is “Button Up Your Overcoat” crooned by the vivacious Tessa Faye in the Rogers’ role, along with the ugly duckling Bobby she energizes as he heads in to play in the big game.

Tessa Faye with the football team singing “I Just Wanna Be Bad”

I totally subscribe to the Good News philosophy: Life is just a bowl of cherries, don’t take it serious!




History with a Twist

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Visiting the New Haven Museum (the local museum that corresponds to the New York Historical Society), I couldn’t resist this book.  I really look forward to getting the backstory on Arsenic and Old Lace and of course, Benedict Arnold, who had his druggist, book, and what-not shop on the New Haven Green.


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The strange phrase on his shop sign “Sibi Totique” means ‘something for everyone’.  Arnold also prospered as a merchant in the West Indies trade, as did New Haven.  But you probably know Arnold as the Revolutionary War turncoat.

And you may not know that Nathan Hale, America’s first (failed) spy lived in New Haven and attended Yale. Caught and hung by the British, yet still a model origin spy for the CIA.  What a way to make a reputation!  New Haven certainly has inauspicious Revolutionary War ties.

Cinque Leader of the Amistad Captives

Leader of the Amistad Captives

The city redeemed itself with the Amistad trial, where John Quincy Adams defended newly enslaved Africans, who led by Cinque, revolted onboard the slave ship Amistad.  Considered the first Civil Rights trial, which went all the way to the Supreme Court, little changed in terms of policy or law as a result.  The pitiful rationale was that the slavers were Spanish.  Had it been an American ship, the outcome probably would have been very different and not as noted in history.



New Haven had an industrial boom, making clocks, carriages, locks, and my favorite, corsets.  In two weeks, I see a play called Freewheelers on that very supportive topic, at the Arts & Ideas Festival. And then there’s the bicycle.








Just for the ladies…

bicycle ad









New Haven also was a major trade and working port, as well as a center for oyster harvesting.  In the maritime exhibit, I really liked the modernist artist Max Dellfant.  Many were like this work, with thick, juicy paint slathered on the surface.









And his depiction of his workspace just charmed me, reminding me of the mess and jumble of my mother’s studio.

My Studio Max Dellfant 1923

My Studio
Max Dellfant









From Connecticut’s earlier history, the Jerks of Connecticut book doesn’t include the two early founders who hid out in a West Rock cave.  They were hiding because they had GeorgeHenryDurrie-JudgesCaveWestRockNewHaven signed the death warrant to behead King Charles I in 1649 (note, eleven years after New Haven was founded, which is completely unrelated).  With Restoration in 1661, they were hunted by British Royal Agents.  Now a street is named after Edward Whaley.  How history redesigns us all.  The cave is apparently a local tourist site, so I have to go find it.

The evening concluded with a lecture on financial documents from the Revolutionary War period.  You know, hand signed currency, stocks, bank notes (which anyone could print, even Delmonico’s Restaurant), and bonds for financing the nation.  Bonds were also used to raise the money to fight the war.  They could be redeemed in meat, wool, or sheep, as a hedge against inflation.

Early on, silversmiths had the engraving skill to put an identifying mark on the border of stock certificates to try to prevent counterfeiting.  Later pictures were incorporated, including portraits, landscapes, and genre scenes.  So these documents are actually quite handsome.

This aesthetic didn’t keep the country from going bankrupt.  Alexander Hamilton created the US Treasury to take back those (worthless) bonds in exchange for Treasury Bonds.  Everyone wanted to buy Treasury Bonds because they loved their new nation.  Too many were sold, in fact, causing an early financial panic, which then created the national debt.

Although a seemingly dull subject, the documents opened doors that were wonderfully evocative.  Stories about expansion, experimentation, businesses and industrialization, as well as the individuals behind the scene.

Plus in those early days, bonds yielded 6 percent.  Those were the days!

Taste of New Haven

Today, I joined Eric with Taste of New Haven as he guided our congenial group around the Theater District and part of the Yale Campus.  Eric, a fellow Washington University alum, is an architect working on community sustainability, as well as leading gastronomic tours.  He provided a terrifically colorful history of the Yale Green.  I probably won’t look out at it (from my apartment window) ever the same again.

On this hot afternoon, we started at a wine store with a refreshing Portuguese white.  Did you know that the best time to drink wine is early in the morning, before you brush your teeth, because you palette is at its cleanest?  As Eric said, this practice makes you not a lush, but a ‘wine connoisseur’.

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Eric tells us about the first hamburger

Although we didn’t sample the food at this place, Louis Lunch is famous as the first place to serve a hamburger, to a man in a hurry.  Some things never change.  This building was moved from its original spot to make way for development and then was expanded.  In this picture you see the entire length of the one room restaurant.  In other words, it’s still tiny.


I’ve been wondering what makes New Haven’s apizza so famo2013-06-01 17.11.31us.  Eric explained it better than anyone else so far, attributing its accolades to a different quality of the dough.  Apparently, it’s high protein, although I wouldn’t argue any health benefits. The dough is also stretched, not tossed, accounting for its irregularities.

The famous pizza places in New Haven cook the pizza in ovens that reach 800 degrees!  They use not fresh but canned tomatoes grown in the ash of Mount Vesuvius.  The classic cheese pizza at Bar did have the tastiest tomato sauce.  I might go so far to call it volcanic.

New Haven has had a large Italian population and pizzas made popular lunches for factory workers.  Apparently, an entrepreneur also stacked pizzas on his head “really high” before walking from the train station to the workers in Wooster Square on their lunch break to sell his delicious pies.  Today, Wooster Square is home to two of the contenders for best apizza in New Haven, but I liked what we had at Bar better.  Except perhaps for their famous mashed potato pizza.  It tastes about as good as you’d expect, but it’s the best seller here.  Diversity of taste is what makes the world go round.

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In the Women’s restroom at Bar.

Bar also has a great look.

The party space at Bar

The party space at Bar










We made a quick stop at a boutique chocolatier, a crowd favorite…

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…wandered through the Yale campus, looking especially pretty with its alumni gatherings this weekend…

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…and I learned why New Haven is called Elm City.  One of its rich, nineteenth-century inhabitants wanted to beautify his neighborhood and planted the trees.  In the 1880s, Charles Dickens on his famous trip across the United States thought New Haven was the prettiest place, based on seeing this elm-laden area.

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Here Aaron rubs the foot of a statue.  Lots of good luck in store for him!


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And just like in New York, public art can surprise you.  Eric showed us just where to stand to see the ‘Four Circles in a Square.’  The work is actually painted on several different buildings, including the circular parking ramp you see in the center rear.  As we walked down the narrow cut through, the coherence of the piece broke down, and the remains looked like large, random orange blotches on disparate buildings.  How wonderful to have someone help me see!


We ended at Kelly’s Irish Restaurant, where most of the group had corned beef spring rolls.  Yes, really.  But they were a hit.  I was glad to be a vegetarian.  By the time the Hawaiian mochi arrived, the sun relented, and sitting outside under the Greek-like arbor (note the crazy quilt of international influences here) with good company was just what this over-stuffed tourist needed.