Friday, March 26, 2010

A Life to Live, This Side of the Bars

Loading up on groceries sounded like a great idea to me, and I could tell that my friend David (who’d come with me to see my fiancée, Piper) and another husband in our Brooklyn-to-Danbury carpool (a New York professional whose wife was serving two years) were equally enthused about the prospect. He’d brought along his good-natured infant son, born a few months earlier in a hospital near the prison, who of course was up for anything.

And so it was that we bid goodbye to our women for another week and headed into the aisles, an oddball quintet in search of snacks.

None of us saw any reason that we shouldn’t indulge ourselves at Trader Joe’s while our women ate mystery meat in the prison cafeteria. Personally, it never occurred to me not to make the best of the situation. And my situation was this: Once a week, for 13 months, I visited my fiancée in prison, where she was serving her time for a nonviolent crime she’d committed 10 years earlier.

Before she left, Piper told herself that anyone could survive anything for a year. And that applied to me, too. Even in dreary downtown Danbury, I knew there had to be decent coffee and good pizza, and there was. The first time I saw Ernie’s Roadhouse restaurant, I envisioned a melodramatic scene of ending my visits to the big house with a burger and a stiff bourbon at the bar, muttering, “Pour me another, Ernie,” as I stirred my drink with a little red straw.

And the drive itself became less about the hassle — which it surely was, even as I knew I was fortunate to live so close to the prison — and more of an opportunity to slow down and think as I cruised north, and then back south, essentially on autopilot.

I knew Piper had skeletons in her closet. Doesn’t everyone? But hers jumped out in a way most of us never experience.

One day in May 1998, while I was at work, a pair of Customs agents buzzed our apartment. When Piper asked what they wanted, they suggested it was better to talk in person. So up they came, five floors, and explained to Piper (who was still in her pajamas, working from home) that she had been indicted in federal court for crimes they said she committed many years before in an international drug ring.

When she called me and said in an uncharacteristically shaky voice: “We have to talk. Right now,” I wondered what I’d done wrong this time.

But it wasn’t about me. Rapidly, she filled me in on a series of unfortunate events that led to that very bad morning.

I had known Piper for four years and dated her for two. Brassier, bolder, more adventurous than anyone I know, Piper is not your average girl. But she is still a pretty, blond Smith grad who looks as if she descended from Mayflower stock: the last girl you’d expect to end up behind bars. I mean, come on, an international drug ring? Didn’t see that one coming.

To say she was freaked out and wondering if I would stick around for the messes sure to come is an understatement. To say that it never once crossed my mind to bail on her is simply a statement of fact.

For the next five years as the legal system played out, a constant hum of anxiety became the third wheel of our relationship, an ugly piece of furniture we lived with every day. Well-meaning if misinformed friends shared a common refrain: “Don’t worry, girls like Piper don’t end up in prison.”

Her lawyer told her that if the case went to trial she would be as good a defendant as they come, having lived a model life since her brief period of recklessness. He also told her that if she lost — and she never claimed to be framed, just young and stupid — she could easily serve seven years or more.

After the legal dust settled, the lawyer arrived with the good news-bad news: Her plea bargain for money laundering would mean a 15-month stay in a minimum-security slammer à la Martha Stewart, 13 with good behavior, which we were sure Piper would exhibit.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Take a Play, Then Adorn It With Opera

You don’t run in to semi-opera often now, even as an antiquarian concern. Because the musical & theatrical components each offer a full evening’s worth of material, by today’s standards, they run long. That, along with the expansive casting requirements, makes it pricey to produce.

The English were wary of the Continental taste for opera in the 17th century, but they liked the idea of adorning plays with music. What composers & theater producers came up with is a curious compromise that Roger North, a writer at the time, called “semi-opera.” In this hybrid form, a play is presented straightforwardly, as spoken text, with masques — parades of songs, choruses & dance — interspersed within each act. The masques are an alternative universe: often, the play unfolds in the real world & the masques in the realm of the supernatural. & though the play’s actors might remain as observers, they cede the stage to the singers & dancers & never interact with them.

“The Fairy Queen” is a 1692 adaptation, by an unknown librettist, of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a work well suited to the semi-opera form given the distinction between the mundane (the world of the young lovers, Hermia & Lysander, Demetrius & Helena, to say nothing of Bottom & the other play-staging artisans) & the magical (the fairy land ruled by Oberon & Titania).

But the staging of Purcell’s “Fairy Queen” that opened at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Tuesday evening makes a powerful argument for the form. Directed by Jonathan Kent, with William Christie conducting his superb ensemble, Les Arts Florissants, the production is the centerpiece of the new BAM Opera Festival that Mr. Christie is overseeing. & it is getting around: a collaboration of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, the Opéra Comique in Paris & the Théâtre de Caen in Normandy, it had its premiere at Glyndebourne last summer & was heard at the one French houses this year.

The masques, though broadly related to the action they interrupt, are freewheeling & vaudevillian in spirit, with airs that tell stories unrelated to the larger work or present allegorical evocations of the seasons, & mini-dramas about the joys & perils of marriage. (Or, in the Masque of Seduction, sex — presented at two point by an army of choristers in bunny costumes, offering what appeared to be a fast tour of the Kama Sutra.)

Mr. Kent & his set & costume designer, Paul Brown, add period — Baroque versus modern — to the list of shifting realities. When the curtain rises on the first act, they find Theseus mediating a relatives dispute between Egeus & his daughter, Hermia, over his choice of a husband for her. Both the elegantly appointed drawing room & the characters’ dress evoke Purcell’s time. But at the scene alter, when the artisans arrive — ostensibly to tidy the duke’s room, but mainly to rehearse “Pyramus & Thisbe,” their play-within-the-play — they wear modern dress. The fairies are somewhere in between: but for their huge, black wings, their dress is modern & trendy, except for Puck, who is not very clothed at all.

Among the singers, the standouts were Emmanuelle de Negri, who gave a magnificently dark-hued, ardent account of the plaint, “O Let Me Cry,” & Lucy Crowe, who gave a shapely performance of Juno’s “Thrice Happy Lovers” while suspended in midair. Ed Lyon & Helen Jane Howells sang appealingly in a comic piece about Adam & Eve, & Andrew Foster-Williams used his rich bass to enliven several character pieces.

Purcell’s full range of secular styles is here, from brass & percussion fanfares to the gentlest arias & duets. Mr. Christie, taking brisk tempos (that, nevertheless, reduced the work’s four-hour walking time), drew magnificent performances from his ensemble’s brass, woodwind & string players, as well as from a huge cast of singers whose devotion to the niceties of Baroque style did not preclude them from using vibrato expressively or shaping their lines with either suppleness or rustic brashness, as the aria demanded.

When Mr. Christie first turned up at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in 1989, it was with a production of Lully’s “Atys” that quickly created a passion in New York for lavishly staged French Baroque opera. Perhaps this “Fairy Queen” will do the same for this entertainingly quirky English style.

The theatrical & dance components of the production are beyond my purview, but the portrayals of Oberon (Finbar Lynch), Titania (Amanda Harris), Lysander (Nicholas Shaw), Helena (Joanna Herbert) & Bottom (Desmond Barrit) contributed importantly to the liveliness of the production, as did Kim Brandstrup’s imaginative, liquid choreography.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to Find the Perfect Jeans for You

Shopping for jeans doesn't have to be a nightmare. Here's a guide to helping you find the perfect pair of jeans.

1. Pick stores which make you comfortable, not those with unfriendly or unhelpful salespeople who make you require leaving quickly. It may take a while to find the perfect pair of jeans. Some stores that have nice quality jeans is though you can find some other stores with a small searching.

2. Select lots of different styles, even if you think they may not be flattering, & bring them in to the dressing room simultaneously so that you can compare them.

3. Different cuts are a better fit for different bodies. Sometimes jeans will be a perfect fit in two place & loose or tight in another. These jeans are not for you; they won't mold themselves to your body, if they are loose.

4. Walk around. Are they easy to walk in? Jump up & down. It sounds a bit weird but are they easy to move in? Try bending or sitting down. Make sure the flesh of your backside is not showing.

5. Check the price. Nice jeans normally come at a price, but think about how much you are willing to spend. If the price is within your budget, take them to the checkout & enjoy wearing your perfect jeans!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Boyfriend Jacket

And so, this D&G blazer. I am not sure how my boss would take it if I showed up in it with the shorts they picture it with. But as part of a suit, it is hot. A tailored blazer is six of those amazingly sexy things. And I am liking that they pair it with a T-shirt.

The fella blazer is back. Or it is not back, but , it is new. Or. whatever. Anyway, it is what we are all supposed to be wearing. When I am reborn as a six-foot, willow-thin model, I plan to follow every fashion trend, but until that day, I'll tailor them to fit my personal style.

The only bummer is that it is made with wool, which means it better come off the shelf quick before we are all on to the next thing for Spring. I listen to see-through pink is the next massive trend. Something to contemplate while I finish my bowl of ice cream.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It’s Going to be Hot: 2010 Summer Must-Haves

The winter chill is fainting, the days are getting longer, the craving for ice cold beverages are high—summer is on its way. So, toss your jackets and winter boots away, and bring out your bikini and oversized sunglasses for the fun season is finally here.

But before you take a dip at the cool, blue ocean and work on your tan, check out first this year’s summer must-haves. Mix and match these items and you’ll easily get fresh outfits all throughout summer and even through fall.

Must-have # 1: Floral prints

Flowers are blooming everywhere, and the fashion department is not short on that. Stay soft and cool this summer with floral prints for a more fluid silhouette. Get a few pieces of floral dresses for a perfect walk on the beach or an electrifying evening party. Try visiting wholesale apparel stores for great choices of floral summer dresses. Don’t forget to throw in floral swimsuits in your closet as you’ll surely live in your bikini this season.

Must-have # 2: Sparkles and Glitters

Crystals, glitters, and sparkles are hip in this year’s party trend. But make sure not to overdo your bling blings; just keep it simple and chic. When done in soft hues, these pieces would surely let you enjoy the season with glitz and glam.

Must-have # 3: Handbags

Pair up your floral summer dress or bikini with straw handbags. Don’t drag your oversized bags on the beach. Just a simple and small handbag that’ll fit your sunblock lotion and other small items is enough for your summer outing. You might want to check out wholesale handbags if you are the type of person who loves buying the same things in different colors.

Must-have # 4: Denim

Denim is still ‘in’ in summertime. Lightweight denim is perfect for a fun and flirty summer. You can try ripped or patched denim to achieve the classic All-American look.

Must-have # 5: Shorts

Simple and sexy, shorts are always perfect for the summer heat. Dress it up or down for a cozy afternoon at the beach or a party at night.

Must-have # 6: Sunglasses

Beat the heat this summer with oversized sunglasses. Not only are they trendy, but will also protect your eyes from the sun. Sunglasses are now available in different colors (black, brown, red, blue, you name it) and designs (aviator, wrap-around, John Lennon styles, etc.). You have the whole sunglasses department to choose which design and color fits your face shape.