Thursday, July 26, 2012

Straight Up, Water Back

The bar napkins read:   

Horvendile and I had planned to meet at 7 at the Algonquin.  I arrive at 7, then see his text:  Be at the Blue Bar at 7:15.  Well all right then.  The greeter at the Algonquin lobby wonders, what did we do before cell phones?  I say something like, we agreed ahead of time on a place and time, and kept to it.  Or near it.

I’ve been thinking about a Rob Roy since 6:15, so I settle in at the Blue Bar and ask for one.  The bartender says, “Sweet or dry?”  “Sweet,” I answer.  We smile.

The bar itself is not merely blue.  It’s like a mood ring, little chips within it change from rose to yellow to green to blue.  Tiny blue lights shine on white rings around a chandelier, and the back wall is a pale, pale blue that one might expect to turn into a waterfall any moment.  A few minutes go by, and a different bartender says, “Rob Roy?”  Yes, thank you.  I sniff it.  Luscious, warm, tart.  I sip.  Perfection.  My perfectly nice dress is suddenly out of place and I feel underdressed.  Not in comparison to other patrons.  In comparison to my own desire. 

I’d put on a little make-up before I left the office to compensate for the nice dress I feared was too ordinary.  On the way over, I saw the lipstick stain on my Starbucks cup lid.  When I was a teenager acting the sophisticated lady — onstage only, in school plays — I contemplated that lipstick just would not come off.  Unfortunately I contemplated that aloud, which gave boys ideas.  I eventually learned to keep my mouth shut.  About lipstick, anyway.  Nowadays I’m sure lipstick is made differently, of different stuff, because the color won’t survive a humid stroll across town.

I work so I can pay for my own drink, thanks.”  This runs through my mind, unreasonably, as no one had offered.  I’d never thought of it when the offers came in the past.  But a Rob Roy in a classy joint costs more than a pint in a dive.

Olympic soccer is on the silent television.  Soccer is so colorful.  The socks with horizontal stripes, apron-like tunics with vertical stripes, primary colors within teams and opposing them — it all makes me think of Dr. Seuss.

Yes, even the classy Blue Bar has a television, but its sound is off, and some good old jazz is the undercurrent beneath the chatter.  I text Horvendile:  "This Rob Roy is delicious."  When he arrives, he orders one — dry.  We spend an hour or so, talking of words, soccer, people.  I think, I’m supposed to give him a hug from Elizabeth.  But I don’t want to interrupt.  Eventually the thought flutters out of my mind.  Je suis desolé.

– Dry or sweet?
– Sweet. please
– I’m sure you don’t need it.
– You certainly don’t.

The imaginary conversation floats through my head as I carefully grasp the banister on the way down the twisting marble steps to the Ladies’ Room.  They make me think of a building on 105th Street that I haven’t been to in twenty years.  We ladies attending the ladies’ room agree that it was designed by a woman:  The stall doors swing out. 

Horvendile and I move on, south for him, northeast for me.  It’s an early night, stormy, but no tornadoes despite what the radio says.  The Blue Bar continues on quietly, classic cocktails pleasing those who come and go. 

~ Molly Matera, signing off, looking up the lyrics of “Long John”

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Elderly and Beautiful Adventurers

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a surprising pleasure.  The main draw, of course, is its exemplary cast, who are introduced in their British habitats precisely in time to leave them.
Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, and Judi Dench.  (c) 2011 Fox Searchlight.

-         Evelyn Greenslade — the delightfully subdued and spectacular Judi Dench — is recently widowed, having some issues with income and outsourced call centers as we all have.  While the remaining men in her life try to solve her problems as they see fit, she decides to give a whole new life a try.

-         Douglas and Jean Ainslie — Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton — are retiring.  Well, he is.  She is a housewife with dreams of glory.  They’ve entrusted their retirement funds to their daughter, so presently cannot afford to live as Mrs. Ainslie would like to become accustomed.  Listen for her “turning left” dream.  They’re a mismatched pair, him self-effacing, self-sacrificing and kind; her, not so much.  Even when she’s not whining, we brace for a sour note.

-         Graham Dashwood, a dashing judge — the always welcome Tom Wilkinson — is suddenly of a mind to retire.  Get away from it all, and back to the land of his youth.  And possibly more than just the land and its light and color.

-         Mrs. Muriel Donnelly is retired, alone, and trapped in a wheelchair.  She is humorless, bigoted, and terrified, and as played by the irresistible Maggie Smith, still likeable.  She cannot get about without a new hip, the waiting list for which is too long in England.  She can get it more quickly and cheaply elsewhere….

-         Madge Hardcastle — the wittily impish Celia Imrie — is tired of being a live-in babysitter for her married daughter.  She wants life, and sex, and a new husband.  Her adolescent grandchildren understand her better than her own daughter, and off she goes.

-         Norman Cousins has still got it, he’s certain, he just needs to find someone who wants it.  Ronald Pickup makes this character a 20-something stuck in a 60-something’s body, but his forays into London nightlife are disheartening.  Norman needs a new audience for his old pick-up lines, so he joins these strangers awaiting a flight to a new home for “the elderly and beautiful,” the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

The journey is hard, the arrival disappointing, despite the optimism and warmth of their host, the proprietor of the hotel, Sonny Kapoor.  The sweet-faced and sincere Dev Patel plays Sonny with just a tad too much enthusiasm.  Sonny is in love with (but can’t say it) the lovely Sunaina (a delicately feisty young woman played by Tena Desae), who works for her brother Jay’s (Sid Makkar) call center. 
Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Madge (Celia Imrie) arrive at their new home.  (c) 2011 Fox Searchlight

Sonny Kapoor has a dream:  to resurrect his father’s dream of this ancient hotel in this rundown part of Jaipur, India.  His ruling mantra is “It’ll all work out in the end.  If it hasn’t, it is not yet the end.”  The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a disappointment to say the least.  The phones don’t work (although the computer connected to the internet does), and Madge’s room doesn’t even have a door — until she takes over Sonny’s room, so now he’s in a room without a door.  That’s Madge for you.  Madge and Norman look for love separately and keep bumping into each other.  Graham was brought up in India, so he’s looking for his rose-colored memories, perhaps, or perhaps something more.  Evelyn reinvents herself in this new land by getting her very first job — in Sunaina’s brother Jay’s call center of all places.  Douglas Ainslie is enthralled by his surroundings, the smiling faces, the food, the land, the buildings, the history.  Jean Ainslie won’t leave the hotel she hates.  Mrs. Donnelly gets her surgery despite her fears, and settles in, talking to the silent food server.  Real life interferes on occasion in the person of Sonny’s mother (Lillete Dubey), but not too much.  Even the traffic jams are entertaining.
Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy.  (c) 2011 Fox Searchlight.

Does all this sound too good to be true?  Sure, but during the film no one cares. 

The actors are all very fine.  They take a lightweight script by Ol Parker (based on a novel by Deborah Moggach) and make it work. John Madden’s direction is swift without rushing.  The film pronounces its themes clearly:  Love is possible at any age, and retirement — not to mention life — will be what you make of it, money or no money.  And, of course, Sonny’s mantra. 

Every character (almost) has his or her arc of learning, growing, taking that first terrifying step into another life.  I won’t get specific here and produce spoilers.  Structurally I pronounce The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel sound — that is, the film, not the building!  If something’s amiss, it’s that the film is largely predictable, as is any story that strives for a happy ending.  This is a bit of summery fluff.  If you want no more than a sweet summer fling, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
Evelyn reinvented.  (c) 2011 Fox Searchlight.

~ Molly Matera, signing off to look for a verandah and an exotic cocktail….

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Keeping the Blue Spruce Company

Now that my tree is bare, one of the interesting things to notice is how the tree trunk I could not see before has, over two decades, leaned outward, toward the southeast.  Interesting, but I'd still rather the tree was covered by its healthy branches.

My back garden is in dire need of weeding.  I charged the weed whacker yesterday, but that’s just what I use as a “lawn” trimmer, out front and back.  Today is not the day for weeding the back garden.  For today, I’ve done quite enough outdoor work on a 90-something-degree day.   

Yesterday I snipped some Swiss Chard and rinsed it in a little strainer.  I set it on the counter.  This morning the strainer and about 1/10 of the Swiss Chard leaves were on the floor.   What strange cats I have, eating all that Swiss Chard.  The three are lying around in today’s heat.  After working out front, my shorts were wet as well as dirty, so I just dropped them where I stood.  Chick promptly lay down on them and slept.

What I learned today:  Spruce roots are fairly shallow and spread wide.  That means it’s tough to find places where I can dig enough to plant two 6” pots of New Guinea impatiens.  Therefore, they’re staying in their pots.  The 3” pot I planted in the ground.  And I planted the somewhere-in-between pots of Bandana Lemon Zest Lantana.  The hydrangea is far enough off to dig a goodly hole in a spot that will get morning sun and later shade.  Small now, it’ll grow wide and tall in equal measure and give some shelter to my bedroom window.  My hydrangea out back are about 3 ½ feet wide and tall.
Stage 1: Hydrangea, New Guinea Impatiens, Lantana and little Artemesia

The little gray things are another story.  I see them all the time, and I like them, they’re visually interesting.  After searching on the internet for blue-gray frilly foliage, I am reasonably sure they’re artemesia.  I came back inside after planting in the noonday sun (I’m neither an Englishman nor a mad dog — I did, after all, come inside), I’m also reasonably sure I planted them too close together and too close to the front stoop. 
Stage 2: I don't like red mulch, so I went with dark stuff.  Unfortunately I just got 1 bag when I clearly need 3.

Next year….assuming as I am that the branches will not be growing back at all, and new growth will take years, next year I’ll get some pretty — and heavy — pots to ring around the tree with overflowing annuals.  The two hoses stretching to the front from out back may not be the best solution, but it’s all I’ve got.  Hey, maybe that slinky, creepy blue garden hose that’s curls up to a foot and then stretches out to 50…...ah, television commercials that look like the product can solve problems.  Will I never learn?

Back to those roots — and maybe next year I’ll do this — another option would be to set in a root barrier (might be a little corrugated metal fence, might be a ring of cobblestones set deep in the soil), since a little root-snipping and blocking wouldn’t hurt the tree.  It is, after all, over twenty years old.  The only thing that hurts it is when ignoramuses hack off branches.  They won’t grow back.  But there is new growth.  

~ Molly Matera, signing off to dream of a place where only people who love trees prune them.

My Big Blue Spruce

One recent Sunday, I sat in my back garden enjoying the peace of the sheltering trees and bushes and the view of birds and flowers.  Trucks on the highway can still be heard, but there’s a buffer zone, and a swooshy sound from the speeding vehicles passes between the buildings, keeping it far away.

Two squirrels sit calmly on one branch, while another goes up the juniper trunk.  It chases a fourth.  A red-breasted robin flaps in the birdbath and sings.  A bee lights on the pansies in the pot then swings by the multi-colored hydrangea.  Salmon-colored flowers bloom with the nasturtium leaves and zucchini flowers burst from beneath the broad leaves.

When I first moved here 20-odd years ago, it was February, cold and snowy.  The front door was reached by four steps, and the patchy lawn between it and the street was empty.  That first Christmas, I decided I’d have a live Christmas tree and plant it near the stoop.  I prepared ahead – Aunt Lois told me a trick my grandfather had taught her.  Dig the hole before frost, big enough to fit a rootball and more.  Add a little water to the bottom of the hole, then cover it with black plastic (since my grandfather was born in the 19th century, I’m guessing he said something like burlap, not plastic), then refill the plastic-covered hole with a mix of the original soil and a new topsoil mixed with peat moss.  Had this occurred 10 years later than it did, I’d have documented it with my digital camera; but alas, I had no such instrument back then. Only my memory serves.  For Christmas, I bought a four-foot tall blue spruce and kept it inside, its rootball in a large bucket, for the season.  After Christmas, and after some snow melted, I planted it out front, and much to everyone’s surprise, it took.  Over the years, it grew tall and wide and is now taller than the two-story building I live in.
Big Blue in January 2012 -- yes, ten minutes of snow melted ten minutes later.

Beyond its beauty, Big Blue (as I called it) offered a habitat to birds and shelter to me as well.  Its boughs covered part of my bedroom window, so people walking along the street couldn’t just see in – they’d have to get past the scratchy needles to do that.  More, Big Blue sheltered my front stoop, allowing packages to be delivered in safety without my taking off work to receive them.  I could tell any delivery service just to leave it on the stoop, Big Blue protects it all. 

Blue has been a part of my daily life for many years, a welcome home sign, and the landmark that my friends and family could use to differentiate my building from the others along my street.  Some weekends are chock-a-block full and busy, but I noticed a weed tree was growing strong between Blue and the building, so I resolved that I’d go in and cut that away the coming weekend.

That Tuesday, I came home in early dusk.  The black-eyed susans that had been clinging to the corner of the building were gone.  As were the hostas near the stoop.  As were Blue’s branches from the ground to six feet above.  My beautiful blue spruce had been butchered, the ground around it cleared of all perennials.  It was appalling.  Blue had been violently shaved, and I couldn’t help thinking of Eleanor Parker’s desperate whispered lines in the 1950 movie, Caged, after the other inmates had hacked her hair off:  “It’ll grow back.  It’ll grow back.”  The dirt around Blue was naked and lifeless, no longer covered by Blue’s protective needles.  My stoop and window were naked. 
twilight shock

One of the first things I ever transplanted was a hosta.  It’s still alive, out back.  Hostas are therefore, to me, almost impossible to kill, since I had no skill in transplanting.  Yet the hostas at the foot of my tree were gone.

The management office of the co-op closes at 5, but I wrote an email that evening complaining bitterly of the destructive act.  Home on Wednesday, I awaited a response.  The site manager and a minion came around with a camera.  I charged outside asking if they’d done it.  I was not calm.  They were.  After a few minutes she (the site manager) claimed it had been chopped up due to a security issue – the alleged security guard had allegedly seen a kid smoking pot behind my tree.  Obviously he was not well hidden, since the security guards never get out of their golf carts.  Poor kid, if he’d thought about it, there are plenty of places the security guards never notice where he could have smoked in peace.

Not that I believe that story.  If there had been a security issue and they didn’t inform me of it, surely that would be negligence.  If I was in danger because of my tree, surely they would have been concerned enough to send an email (they have two of my email addresses), a phone call (they have my numbers), or, easier still, put a note through the mail slot in my door, the way Metro Management generally communicates with the residents.  I received no warning of danger and no notification that either I should prune my tree or they would. 

What some incompetent fool with a power tool did to my tree was not pruning.  Metro Management does not hire people with any knowledge – the same unskilled labor paints porticoes and tromps through gardens with leaf blowers, and wreaks havoc on innocent plants with power saws. 


I wrote to every member of the Board of Directors of the co-op as well.  I have yet to receive a response.  To say nothing is to condone what was done.  It could have been a mistake, apologized for, and offers of new annuals to cover the naked soil could have been made.  But that didn’t happen.  In the weeks since, I’ve walked around Parkway Village, taking pleasure in people’s gardens and noting every tree or bush that could be seen as a security issue.  I won’t tell, though.  Metro Management might chop them down.

So, the upshot is this:  DO NOT EVER BUY INTO A CO-OP IN NEW YORK.  You’ll have no rights, merely responsibilities.  You will not be a homeowner.  Unskilled and ignorant laborers can destroy any landscaping you may choose to do with impunity.  Especially if the co-op board is foolhardy enough to hire Metro Management.

~ Molly Matera, signing off to go plant some impatiens around my poor tree, and a new hydrangea under my bare window.