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September 2009 Archives

September 4, 2009

A Blue Ribbon for Julie & Julia

Earlier this summer, the Dresser sneaked off in the middle of the day with a friend to her local nonprofit movie house (Washington, DC's Avalon Theatre) to see Julie & Julia starring Meryl Streep. One of the Dresser's literary colleagues thought this was utterly decadent and perhaps the outing was because the Dresser has taken so long to write her thoughts about seeing the dual stories of Julia Child and Julie Powell who took one whole year to cook her way through Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and simultaneously blog about the results. The movie, which premiered August 7, is now drifting down the pop chart, such that after the weekend of August 28-30, the box office ranking was the 6th most popularly seen film. However, the Dresser has noticed that both My Life In France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme and Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell continue to top the best-selling book list of major American newspapers like The New York Times. JuliePowell.jpg


What the Dresser adored about Nora Ephron's film is that not only did it make her chuckle and admire how fantastic Meryl Streep was as the whacky top chef who brought French cooking to Americans, but it absolutely put the Dresser back in touch with one incident after another that involves how much the Dresser enjoys eating artfully prepared food and the pursuit of cooking. Whether Meryl Streep is beating lions (as Karen Blixen in Out of Africa) or eggs, she has the ability to absorb the character she is portraying such that the viewer can get lost in the story and isn't pulled up short by the fact that Streep is playing the part.

As Julia Child, Streep was able to modulate her voice to achieve those zany resonances that Julia made as she was executing her televised cooking errors and entertaining the American viewing audience. Yes, the Dresser said errors because half the reason the Dresser watched what Julia did on TV was to see what one could learn from her mistakes and, of course, to be entertained. Seeing Streep as Julia cooking on TV while Julie Powell watched in her living room was a wild ride for the Dresser. The Dresser instantly thought about a particular televised demonstration where Julia Child made a caramelized dome that went over some desert. The dome took at least 15 or 20 minutes of the show to make and once it was finished, Julia stood over it for a few minutes saying some odd thing and then wham, she broke it up over the desert (was it a pie and what did the dome add in eating pleasure?). The Dresser actually found the film scene where Streep-cum-Child is on TV sloppily flipping an omelet to be tame by comparison to personal memories.


The Dresser had another set of flashbacks in seeing the ebullient Julia start her cooking lessons at the Cordon Bleu. The film scene where Julia enters the cooking school's kitchen that is populated only by men seemed to be a triumph for all women in general and so that also gave the Dresser waves of emotional reaction.juliejulia08.jpgPhoto by Jonathan Wenk, Columbia Pictures

When the Dresser first got her copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she was newly out of college, had just gotten married, and her then-husband and she had a mutual high school friend named Ken who was learning to cook from an unusually tall Parisian woman named Vivien. (The scene in the movie where Julia's feet hang off the short mattress made the Dresser think of the svelte Vivien.) In a few years, Ken threw over his doctorate degree in operations research, moved to Juneau, and opened a successful French restaurant with some barbarian who had the key to the city and who could get a liquor license. Did the Dresser, who also learned Vivien's cooking secrets, feel jealous? No way! The Dresser's grandfather owned a restaurant in which he employed accomplished European chefs and she knew how much trouble service-oriented jobs are.

Around 1999, the Dresser had a dancer friend named Dennis who went on sabbatical from his government job so that he could attend the Cordon Bleu to see if he wanted to make a career change. Dennis informed the Dresser that she could attend a cooking demonstration at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and so she did. Well, while she knew that Julia Child loved all things buttered (that scene in the movie where Julie Powell opens her 'frig to a mountain of butter was enough to turn anyone's arteries to stone), going to the Cordon Bleu completely convinced the Dresser that Cordon Bleu cooking will not only make a person fat, but will also make them quickly dead. However, it was not butter that made the demonstration so appalling, but other animal fat and blood used in cooking some chicken dish that really made her pass on the taste offering.

Continue reading "A Blue Ribbon for Julie & Julia" »

September 19, 2009

Verge Ensemble: The Pleasure of Listening

The prevailing belief in the general public is that new classical music is, at best, challenging to listen and, at worse, painful. On September 13, 2009, the Dresser had the pleasure of attending Verge Ensemble's 2009-2010 opening season concert at the Corcoran Gallery Art in Washington, DC. Verge, formerly known as the Contemporary Music Forum, presented six works, one of which was a world premiere and three, Washington, DC, premieres. The overall concert was predominately tonal and listener friendly.

Opening the concert was Harvey Sollberger's "Sunflowers," which he wrote in 1976. Flautist David Whiteside and vibraphonist Barry Dove entered the stage each carrying a wine bottle planted with a single sunflower. Indeed this gesture, which seemed straight out of the 1960's love-and-peace movement, set the tone for the Verge concert. As this piece opened, the flute wove a mysterious and languorous melody with accents from the vibraphone. When the piece heated up, occasional jazz rhythms were introduced and the flautist hummed into his instrument. A short and shrill passage on the piccolo briefly changed the prevailing calm. The Dresser guesses that to experience Sollberger playing "Sunflowers" (he is an accomplished flautist noted for exploring new performing techniques) would add another dimension to this piece.

AudreyAndrist.jpg"Birds in Warped Time II" (1980) by Somei Satoh organically followed "Sunflowers" with its wavering, oriental inflection that transitioned into something sounding like a gypsy serenade. The performances by violinist James Stern and pianist Audrey Andrist was both passionate and technically inspired.

What particularly drew the Dresser to this concert was the opportunity to hear a composition by Paul Moravec, who recently premiered his first opera The Letter. The third piece offered in the Verge program was Moravec's "Passacaglia" (2005) for piano, violin, and cello. This composition is a rich brocade of rapid fingering on the piano, passionate intonations from the cello, and dialectic responses from the violin. Violinist James Stern, cellist Steve Honigberg, and pianist Audrey Andrist played "Passacaglia" with precision and mounting verve until the close, which sounded like a whistling wind but resolved into a satisfying close. If the concert had ended at this point, the Dresser would have been totally satisfied.

The second half of the concert brought the world premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff's "Six Miniatures for Violin and Percussion" (2008), the DC premiere of Kristin Kuster's "Perpetual Noon" (2008), and Robert Gibson's "A Sound Within" (1982). Robert Gibson who was a member of the Contemporary Music Forum from 1987 to 2000 and who is professor and director of the School of Music at the University of Maryland, College Park, stood up and introduced his piece saying that words often inspire his compositions. "A Sound Within" took its lead from a poem by Yosano Akiko (1878-1942):

Amidst the notes
of my koto is another
deep mysterious tone,
a sound that comes from
with my own breast.
(translation by Kenneth Rexroth. Copyright © 1974, 1976 by Kenneth Rexroth)

Continue reading "Verge Ensemble: The Pleasure of Listening" »

September 23, 2009

Aviva Kempner's Woman of Principle: Gertrude Berg

Molly.jpgThe Dresser did it again. In daylight hours, she sneaked out to see a movie and to hear the director producer speak. Aviva Kempner's Yoohoo, Mrs. Goldberg saw its limited premiere July 10, 2009, and that included what the Dresser would call a rave review from The New York Times. However, the Dresser having heard the excitement about this film from friends of her Ladies Lottery Club, decided just before the film closed in Washington, DC, to see it. What particularly drew her to this one hour and 32-minute documentary about Gertrude Berg and the character she created--a large-hearted Jewish mama living with her family in a Bronx tenement--was how the actress-creator of this first-ever television sitcom called "The Goldbergs" stood up to the Joseph McCarthy-inspired anti-Communist witch hunt.


The original 15-minute show started on radio one month after the 1929 stock market crash as "The Rise of the Goldbergs." While Gertrude Berg's program was about Jewish family life as interpreted by Molly Goldberg, who had that old world Yiddish way of speaking English, the show transcended its ethnicity and was popular among viewers of all religions and beliefs. Molly dispensed practical wisdom and was known for offering comfort, especially in the dark days of the Great Depression.


In 1949, the show moved to television and Molly's husband Jake was played by Philip Loeb, an actor who became active in the Theatre Guild and Actors Equity Association. According to Ms. Kempner's film, he supported rights for working actors and civil rights for all Americans. For example, he helped actors get pay for time they spent in rehearsals. Although he had never been a member of the Communist Party, he was accused before the House Committee on Un-American Activities by director Elia Kazan and actor Lee J. Cobb. By September 1950 in Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television, Loeb was named as a Communist sympathizer.

General Foods, the sponsor of "The Goldbergs," demanded that Loeb be fired. Gertrude Berg refused and General Foods backed off. But, several months later, the show was cancelled. Ever resourceful, Berg had heard that Cardinal Spellman was helping rectify these situations and asked for his support. However, his condition was that she convert to Catholicism, which was not tenable for a woman of such principles.


By the time her show got back on the air in 1952 without Philip Loeb, Lucille Ball's "I Love Lucy" which premiered in October 1951, had taken over her viewers. So "The Goldbergs," a prime-time show with twenty years of unwavering public support, got pushed aside. Now, few people know about the show and its creator Gertrude Berg, who in 1949 had won the first Emmy for lead actress in a comedy show. What cinched the death of the show was when the venue moved from the tenement where Molly leaned out of the window and talked to all her neighbors to the sterile suburbs where Molly had to wait for people to knock on her door.

Continue reading "Aviva Kempner's Woman of Principle: Gertrude Berg" »

September 26, 2009

Cavalia: An Equine Love Affair

SMBoule_2.jpgIntelligence and balance are the operative words for Cavalia, a choreographed horse show with nimble riders, trainers cum horse whisperers (a recent Washington Post article said the main trainer Frédéric Pignon calls himself a horse listener), acrobats, aerialists, and impressive stagecraft with high tech features. On September 23, 2009, at Pentagon City in Washington, DC, the Dresser and her honey strolled into the Cavalia big top--the largest touring tent in North America--to partake of this spectacle. SMWhite_BigTop-1.jpg


The show, developed by Normand Latourelle a former Cirque du Soleil founder, began with a quiz projected on the curtains closing off the massive staging area. How many horses are involved with this show? 64. How many are stallions? 28. How many are mares? Zero. The Dresser's honey who owned and showed horses in the 1980s, whispered to her that it would take only one mare to cause a mutiny, even some of the 36 geldings (neutered males) would remember the allure of a mare in heat. Thus the show progressed with a tight shot of equine coupling (for the inexperienced eye, the image might have seemed all design void of reality) followed by the birth of a long-legged foal and then the first live horse--barely a yearling and the youngest member of the Cavalia stable--entered the arena unbridled and alone.

SMSylvia_Grande_liberte_2.jpgSeveral quotes such as "The horse is God's gift to man," an Arabian Proverb, were projected on the backdrop curtains and little by little, the audience learned how well loved the Cavalia horses are and how much these magnificent animals, many of them with long flowing manes and tails, are willing to do for their trainers. Pignon, with his own mane of flowing hair, ran joyfully with the herd. Predominately the horse prowess involves the discipline of dressage. While the Dresser's main squeeze was worried that Cavalia might be the equivalent of River Dance, even the chorus line effect of the show segment entitled "Carrousel," where eight mounted horses side step with absolute precision or are led through their paces including the high-level move known as the flying change, did not break the poetic mood that carries through the entire show.


Threaded through the fluid paces of horses galloping, prancing, and even lying down as if they were household dogs are projected images of antiquities such as the Chinese terracotta soldiers with an accompanying terracotta horse. SMLG_Philipe.jpgYes, there are a few elements of the Wild West complete with lasso twirling and trick riding. There is also a daredevil episode of Roman riding involving four men riding four pairs of horses--each man standing with one leg on the back of one horse and the other leg on the back of the other horse.SMRoman_Riding_Ricky_2.jpg

Live musicians play an original music score by Michel Cusson, a Canadian composer known for his jazz compositions. The Dresser particularly took note and enjoyment of the music set for the cello and the bolero piece played for "Carrousel."SMCarrousel_Lynn_Glazer.jpg

Continue reading "Cavalia: An Equine Love Affair" »

About September 2009

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in September 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

July 2009 is the previous archive.

January 2010 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.