My friend Cheryl Davis gave me a copy of "Finishing the Hat" a few months ago. I started reading it last Saturday, and was up until 2AM. It's wonderful. How Sondheim writes about the writing process, looking a multiple drafts of lyrics, lyricists he admires and why (he's much bigger on Frank Loesser than Oscar Hammerstein, as am I). I am in the middle of the Anyone Can Whistle chapter. Sondheim did not answer my abiding question about Do I Hear a Waltz? (which may well be a Richard Rodgers questions, but he's not around anymore). Why would you set a musical that's all waltzes in Venice? What is Venetian about a waltz? The link above is to Paul Simon's review in the New York Times.
My one-act play, "Knock," is going to be part of Studio Roanoke's Lunch Box Play Reading Series on Wednesday, December 8th at 12:15. Studio Roanoke (link above) is at 30 Campbell Avenue SW in Roanoke, Virginia. It will be directed by Studio Roanoke Associate Artistic Direct Don LaPlant. We had a very productive phone conversation about the play yesterday, and I am only sorry that I won't be able to attend. It turns out that Don and I met in Valdez in 2003 at the Last Frontier Playwrights Conference. Many years ago, I wrote an unproduced screenplay about an Italian family living in Cleveland in the 1940s. Both the parents and one child were Italian citizens who wound up being transported to camps in the US for enemy aliens during World War II. I didn't think much about the screenplay until the reports about secret detention camps to thwart the war on terrorism came out in 2007. I'd recently been living in Yorkville, which was a very German neighborhood in the 1940s. So I decided to write a play set there about a family, the Schmidts, who'd immigrated to the US from Munich in 1939. Set in 1942, “Knock” is about the Schmidt family, refugees from Nazi Germany who have relocated to New York City. The previous evening, Maria’s husband was arrested by the FBI, on suspicion of aiding the Nazis. FBI Agent Schaeffer returns to the Schmidt apartment to find out how much the family knows. He uses coercion and threatens to send the family to a camp for enemy aliens. His questioning shakes Maria’s faith in her husband, but it isn’t until Schaeffer leaves that her son Gustav spills the beans about his father. At the end of the play, her marriage destroyed, Maria begins to pull herself together to look after her son.
We went to see A Free Man of Color on Wednesday night. I had been warned off of it, both by Ben Brantley's Times review and an old friend ("I am not going to sit through another show George Wolfe messed up!"). John Guare is a messy playwright, which is something I have always admired about his work. He is a genius at juxtaposing elements that on the surface seem completely disparate, and wind up being unified when you least expect it. I have read several other review since we saw the play: Elizabeth Vincentelli in the Post (In 'A Free Man of Color,' all's well that ends well in overstuffed play - NYPOST.com); David Cole in TimeOutNewYork; and Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal. In this case, my experience was much closer to Vincentelli and Cole's. A Free Man of Color is not a perfect play; there are places in the first act where it meanders towards boring. That said, it is big, ambitious and about something important- race in America. It looks gorgeous, thanks to Ann Hould Ward's costumes and David Rockwell's sets. It features 26 (!) wonderful actors, like Veanne Cox (in three roles, including a madam and Robert Livingston);Paul Dano as an affecting Merriwether Lewis; Joseph Marcell as Cornet's ally, Dr. Toubib; John McMartin(Thomas Jefferson); Justina Machado, late of Six Feet Under; Reg Rogers (actually acting, for a change). The lion's share of the play is carried on the shoulders of Jeffrey Wright (Jacques Cornet), who never makes a false step and is rarely if ever off stage, and Mos (formerly Mos Def) as his slave Murmur. I can't imagine other actors in those two roles. The only character that I had trouble with (and it is in the writing and the direction, I believe) is Cornet's wife, played by Sara Gettelfinger. A pretty much thankless, one-note role. In much of the play, Guare ransacks the plays of Wycherly, Jonson, Congreve, Etheredge and da Ponte (though it's been a long time since I read Jonson or Etheredge) to build his Restoration comedy world, mostly set in the Crescent City, with visits to Washington, France, Spain and San Domnique, during Toussaint Louverture's revolution. The final half hour of the play ventures out into other parts of the North American continent. It is impossible (and I assume Guare's intent) to watch the play and not think of the present-day effects of colonialism in Haiti, and slavery there and in the US, and the still unique character of the city of New Orleans. I wouldn't have missed it. Photo credit: Sara Krulwich, New York Times
Did anyone see last night's episode of Boardwalk Empire, "Hold Me in Paradise," on HBO? Fantastic! Kudos to staff writer Meg Jackson who wrote it. I had not heard of her before, but I'm sure we all will in the future.
After the election on Tuesday, Americans for the Arts sent out their latest press release. There's nothing glamorous about arts advocacy, but I do think it's essential. And the press release reminds us that it's not only Democrats who know that the arts are an essential part of American life. The link above is to AFA's website. The press release is reproduced below. "Statement by Americans for the Arts on the 2010 Election The Arts Are Part of the Economic Recovery Solution WASHINGTON, DC — November 3, 2010 — Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert L. Lynch gave the following statement on the Election Day results: “Frustration with the nation’s lack of economic recovery is clearly top of mind among voters and candidates. Likewise, nonprofit arts organizations have also felt the sting of the recession with state and local government arts funding dropping as much as 16 percent, and private charitable gifts to the arts declining $1.2 billion in just two years. Additionally, individual artists have been experiencing unemployment at twice the rate of other educated, professional workers. As our newly-elected leaders at the federal, state, and local levels focus on creating jobs and growing the economy, it is imperative that they understand the profound role the arts play in spurring economic growth and job creation. The nation’s 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations are part of the small business sector, and the nation’s 2.2 million professional artists are among the millions of business entrepreneurs fueling the economy. It is also important that our newly-elected leaders appreciate the connection between arts education training and the development of creative and innovative workforce skills, which are essential to future workers to compete effectively in the 21st Century global economy. For the past four years, the House of Representatives initiated several hearings to spotlight the role of the arts in both the economy and in workforce development, yielding more than $100 million in new public investments in the arts and culture. Americans for the Arts looks forward to working with the bipartisan Congressional Arts Caucus and Senate Cultural Caucus on Capitol Hill to continue educating freshman members on how the arts fuel our nation’s economy. We want to congratulate three of the four Caucus members who were up for re-election on their convincing win last night and look forward to working closely with them in the 112th Congress. They are Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Representative Todd Platts (R-PA), and Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY). We also look forward to working with Representative Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL), both already champions of the arts in the House, as they move into their newly elected Senate seats. At the state government level, several arts champions— based on their record in other public offices or platform statements—have been elected as Governor. They include Governors-elect Jerry Brown (D-CA), Dan Malloy (D-CT), Tom Corbett (R-PA), Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), Lincoln Chaffee (I-RI), Mark Dalton (D-MN), John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Rick Snyder (R-MI). Locally, there were 232 Mayoral elections in cities with a population of over 30,000. Among the many new promising arts champions, Providence, RI Mayor-Elect Angel Taveras and Louisville, KY Mayor-elect Greg Fischer identified the arts as a way to harness local talent and creative energy to power the economy. Americans for the Arts will soon begin conducting the next installment of national research to document the size, impact, and trends of the nonprofit arts industry for its Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study. The previous study demonstrated that the nonprofit arts industry generates $166.2 billion of economic activity annually, which supports 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs.” Next Steps: Americans for the Arts will be undertaking a number of comprehensive initiatives to welcome and educate new members of Congress, but we can’t do this without you! Starting today and in the next few months, we ask you to: Send a letter of congratulations to each elected leader representing your community (federal, state, and local levels) and identify yourself or your organization as a resource on arts policy issues. Ask all freshman members of Congress to begin thinking about joining the bipartisan Congressional Arts Caucus or Senate Cultural Caucus. We will be sending more information about this in the coming weeks. Work with your state and local arts advocacy organizations to develop a unified message to your newly-elected state and local leaders. Save the dates of April 4-5, 2011 to come to Washington, DC for National Arts Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. We especially need grassroots advocates representing the districts and states of newly elected Congressional members. Become an official member of Americans for the Arts Action Fund, it’s free and it helps you stay connected to all the latest political breaking news impacting the arts."
A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to interview librettist Joseph Stein for a newsletter. We spent four to six hours on the phone, and I have never interviewed a more open, thoughtful subject. (Link above is to the Guardian obituary, which I thought was the best). Stein was in his mid-90s when we spoke (and did not want my emphasizing that fact in the interview), and still sharp, funny and dedicated to his work. I admit to being fascinated with librettists, and how the good ones are able to work their alchemy and co-create musicals that are so seamless, you can't always tell where one collaborator ends and the other begins. Stein was a fantastic enthusiast- for the theatre in general, for his fellow collaborators and for the source material of his adaptations. I asked him how he knew what a good project was, and he assured me that good source material "sings." Now, I've read "Tevye and His Daughters," and it didn't sing to me, but it did to Stein. The things I remember him being the most enthusiastic about was his work ("I work very hard, every day," he told me multiple times); the show he was working on at the time (a musical version of "Our Town," "All About Us," which was in rehearsal at Goodspeed); the screenplay for "Fiddler" (the studio wasn't allowed to change a word); and meeting Sean O'Casey ("Juno" was a musicalization of "Juno and the Paycock"). What a great, talented man. And I kick myself for never meeting him for coffee as he'd asked. I could not locate a free, later photo; I believe this is his headshot from the 1960s.
Many of my favorite Coney Island businesses got eviction notices this week. They need to vacate their premises by November 15th. Shoot the Freak!? Gone. Rudy's Old Thyme Bar (best bar on the boardwalk) and Beer Island (home of the Friday night fireworks)? Also gone. Developer Joe Stitt (supply your own hissing) is looking for new tenants, more in line with his "vision" of Coney Island. So far as I can tell, this vision resembles the Staten Island Mall. I blame Mayor Bloomberg; this is what happens when the richest guy in town is elected mayor three times. And the Democratic Party, for not being able to come up with better candidates (Mark Green? C'mon!). Ruby's is open today, I fear for the last time, and they're planning a rally (link above). Here's a link to the Times' article, from Tuesday's paper: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/02/nyregion/02coney.html?emc=eta1. And the Daily News', from Monday: http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_localnyc/iconic-coney-island-disappears-new-landlord-boots-shoot-the-freak-courts-chain-joint-atomic-wings
Bo Caldwell is a novelist whose work was not familiar to me before I read "City of Tranquil Light." It is based on the experiences of her grandparents, who were Mennonite missionaries in China in the early part of the last century. I think that the subject matter itself is a hard row to hoe. I write about God a lot myself, but not about devout people. It's extremely difficult to make them come to life. Caldwell draws full, believable characters of the two missionaries, Will Kiehn and Katherine Freisen, and sets them in an initially unknown land, China. The novel is eminently readable. I wish that I felt that more of the emotional scenes landed with as much weight as they should. There are two that do. Will has a difficult time adjusting to his posting, so much so that he becomes ill. When his superior comes to see him "he had only to look at me before murmuring the German word that had been in my mind for many days: 'Heimweh,' he said. Homesick." That passage landed on me like a punch in the stomach. The other scene also involves Will. He is traveling on foot, alone, having left Katherine at home at their mission. He finds a tree to rest under; which is no small feat, trees being rare in China. There is a pond by the tree, and he sees objects that look like bundles of clothes scattered around. They are the bodies of girl babies that were more impact on me that most of the rest of the novel. It's truly arresting, and Caldwell's style serves the scene perfectly. She is a talented writer. Full disclosure: I received a free copy of the book from Henry Holt & Co.
I've seen plenty of productions of "Long Day's Journey into Night," but I just watched Sidney Lumet's 1962 film. If it wasn't shot at the Monte Cristo cottage in Waterford, Connecticut, it certainly looks like it was. The stage version starred Frederic March and Florence Eldridge; the only carry-over from Broadway is Jason Robards (still Jason Robards, Jr., at that point). Katharine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson play the parents, Dean Stockwell (who knew he could really act?) plays the tubercular brother. Andre Previn did the score. It's fantastic.
Far be it from me to tell you how to vote, but I am opposed to the Unincorporated Business Tax. If you're a writer or do much freelance work, you know what I mean. The Freelancers Union just sent me an email with a list of candidates in New York State (and some nationwide) that oppose this tax. There are plenty of problems with being a freelancer- in particular, people who don't pay (I've got a long list, in New York City and elsewhere, of people who owe me money who I can't afford to sue). Getting rid of this tax would help even out the playing field, at least a little. Here's the url to the list: http://www.freelancersunion.org/advocacy/2010-freelancer-slate.html
On our trip to New Orleans, we hit several bookstores, among them Peaches Records on Decatur Street. They always have a nice selection of books about New Orleans culture, music and food. They had Terry Teachout's biography of Louis Armstrong in paperback, which I'd been waiting for. Because we'd just been in Armstrong's home town, I spent some time Googling addresses from the book and looking at maps to find out what we had been anywhere near. There is not much left of Armstrong's New Orleans, other than North Rampart Street (the north border of the French Quarter), where in his youth black families were welcome to patronize the Jewish and Sicilian merchants. There is a sign or two left over long-closed stores. The house where Armstrong was born, and the Colored Waifs Home where he learned to play the coronet are gone. The neighborhood where his family lived after Storyville appears to be Treme. He was baptized at the Church of the Sacred Heart on Canal Street. That said, I don't remember a time when I wasn't a fan of Armstrong's music. Teachout's book is the first definitive biography of him; Teachout was able to use the archives from the Armstrong Museum on Corona, Queens. I only have more respect for Armstrong as a man and his artistry having read this book. He had aspects of his life which must have given him much pain, but he brought his listeners such joy. Photo credit: Philippe Halsman/Magnum
There's an interesting essay by Anne Trubek in yesterday's Times Book Review (link above) about preserving the homes of dead writers. She was a Norman Mailer Writer Fellow last summer, and it seems she was singularly unimpressed with the great man's museum study. I started thinking about dead writer's homes that I'd visited. In this country, it's not a long list. Edith Wharton's Massachusetts home, The Mount, stands out in my mind. I remember when the tour reached her bedroom, the guide said that Wharton wrote in bed. As she finished a page, she'd toss it on the floor, and her maid would pick it up. This seems to me the height of writer luxury. I did live in William Inge's boyhood home for two months (I still have a key to the front door somewhere) when I was Playwright in Residence at the Inge Center for the Arts. It is a beautiful old house, which hasn't been too horribly altered by time. Some misguided soul ripped off part of the front porch before the Foundation got a hold of it. Inge's mother took in boarders for a time (something he used in "Picnic"), so that there was a rabbit warren quality to the second floor back then. It is the only house that I know of in the US that's the home of a playwright preserved as a museum (the front part of the first floor). The Edgar Allan Poe house in the Bronx has been on my to-do list for decades, but I haven't made it there yet. I tried to come up with any writers' homes in Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic or Austria that I've been to, and got three. The last house where Brecht lived in Berlin was being renovated when I was there, but the ground floor was a pretty nice restaurant, just down the street from where he and his second wife Helen Weigel are buried. The next is the house where Kafka grew up in Prague. The third is the house where Thomas Mann grew up in Luebeck. Not so much at all. While I can think of more than four preserved composers' homes in Vienna (Beethoven's a ringer, he moved so much), and there are plenty of so-and-so-lived-here plaques (my personal favorite is the plaque to the house where Mozart died is in a department store on the Kaertnerstrasse because that's where the house used to be), I don't remember many writer homes at all. I wonder if there are conclusions to be drawn from this. The German-speaking countries value music more than prose? Maybe, but I'm not convinced. When I went to England with my parents as a teenage, I remember we saw Dickens' house in London, Samuel Johnson's house, Anne Hathaway's house in Stratford, the Sherlock Holmes museum (well, it kind of counts) and in Ireland we saw W.B. Yeats' tower (must have been miserably cold to work in- it was cold on a sunny day in August). Maybe it's that American's aren't so interested in preserving that kind of history (as opposed to Graceland or architectural history or Route 66). If you want to know the writer, as Trubek suggests, read a book.
I never thought I'd review a bar, but we just spent five days in New Orleans. We went back to a little place on Decatur Street we'd been before, Pravda. Low-key, charming barkeeps, more kinds of vodka than I knew existed, lovely outdoor space. Should you sit at the bar, the eyes of the painting of Rasputin will watch you!
I'm teaching a playwriting class this fall as part of the Chelsea Rep Lab at The Acting Studio (link to their website above). Our first class was yesterday, and it is undersubscribed. We could easily take four more students. The class meets for ten weeks (not this coming weekend, Thanksgiving weekend, a chunk of December and the weekend of New Year's) on Sundays, 1-4. For various reasons, it is really cheap. The remaining classes would cost you $180. It is held at Shetler Studios, near 54th and Broadway in Manhattan. Though you don't have to be an actor to take it, it is geared toward teaching actors to write. The Acting Studio Director is James Price, whom I've known for decades, and the Associate Director is John Grabowski, who directed my first reading in New York, at Chelsea Rep when I was playwright-in-residence there. This is the second class I've taught for James and John. It's a treat to work with them, and with such engaged students. Actors you know of like Julianne Margulies and Lauren Velez (we watch "Dexter" devotedly) have studied there. If you're interested in the class, please email me at anne at annephelan dot com, or leave a comment here. Photo is from Chelsea Rep's production of "The Plough and the Stars."
I wish that I could tell you that I haven't been blogging lately because of some major, life-changing event. The truth has to do with the weather and Hassidem. I grew up in the midwest, I lived in Kansas and I've seen twisters. But I'd never actually been in a tornado until last Thursday. My most immediate concern was my pup (the thunder made him crazy). So there are high winds, the view out of my living room window looks remarkably like the 1939 movie, but I hear dripping water. When the tornado has passed, I see at least six leaks in my kitchen, and water spewing out of the bathroom light fixture. But my landlord is Hassidic, so nothing can be repaired on Yom Kippur. Whereon, the ceiling drywall collapses. And the handy-persons, best referred to as the Three Stooges, replace the drywall on Monday, and the water streams from the roof. Everything in the kitchen got zapped by the drywall or by the paint-sanding, even everything in the drawers. The Stooges can't work during Sukkoth. I pray the work can be done before Simchat Torah.
I've read plenty of Oliver Sacks, both his books and articles in The New Yorker. I saw Peter Brooks' theatre piece based on "The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat"; I've even seen Sacks himself, at the French Roast on the Upper West Side. But his latest New Yorker article ( A Neurologist's Notebook: Face-Blind- The Perils of Prosopagnosia) struck me in a different way. It's about people who have a difficult time recognizing faces; from those who have difficulty recognizing them out of context, to those who can't recognize family members or every day landmarks. In extreme cases, this behavior manifests itself as brain lesions. Sacks outs himself as having a lesser but still significant form of it, developmental (or congenital) prosopagnosia. The rumors that swirled around Sacks for years because of his behavior in public (he has Aspergers, he has social anxiety, etc.) are not true. It's the difficulty he has in processing visual information (something the rest of us take for granted) that makes him appear to have these problems. The further Sacks delved into the variations of face-blind-ness (it has its flip side: Sacks believes his father had the opposite condition, that he was a "super recognizer), the more it seemed very familiar to me. I have always had problems recognizing people by their faces if they are out of their usual context; I remember this at least as far back as high school. I always ascribed that to poor memory or too much self-involvement on my part. It never happens with close friends or family, and it never happens if the setting is appropriate. But it's happened to me twice this summer, seeing people I work with in setting where I didn't expect them. Last week, I read an interview with Edward Albee where he described how his characters take shape in his mind, and he mentioned that he can't see their faces. I got to think that while I'm writing, I can see the characters three-dimensionally, seeing them moving through space (either in an environment or on a stage), hear their voices and know their thoughts, I can never see their faces. They are a blurred-out gray, like a wash on newsprint. The link above is to an abstract of Sacks' article.
On Saturday, Tom and I went with a group of friends to see Edward Albee's Me, Myself and I (N.B. The title actually has an ampersand in it, but Blogger won't accept one with a Mac platform) at Playwrights Horizons. I did not see the 2008 production at the McCarter with Tyne Daly, but I certainly read about it. The show is still in previews, so I saw the playwright sitting alone, listening intently, and the director, Emily Mann, looking as if she was going to find the playwright at intermission. She looked very tired. The play is about a mother (Elizabeth Ashley), and her twin sons OTTO (Zachary Booth) and otto (Preston Sadlier). Mother is attended by Dr. (the always engaging Brian Murray). OTTO has decided that otto no longer is his brother, that his mirror reflection is his true twin, and that it is time to break away from his family. Chaos, hilarity and the impossibility of communication between parent and child ensues. I will not reveal the last ten minutes of the play, but it is inspired, hilarious and true to everything that has come before. I cannot decide whether the first act feels slow because of the direction or the writing (it feels to me like it takes longer to get where we're going than it should). But the actors are very engaging; Elizabeth Ashley made me feel like I had played those scenes in my own life. Booth and Sadlier look very alike onstage (I couldn't tell them apart) and as rooted in the world of the play as Ashley and Murray are. I may have to go see it again.
A friend of mine, Brian Henry, is in a staged reading of Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock at Theatre 80 St. Marks. There were two performances last week, and additional ones are Tues. the 28th and Wed. the 29th. Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com I have read about the iconic Broadway production (see graphic), which was part of the Federal Theatre Project. It never opened at the Maxine Elliott because it was shut down by the US government. Orson Welles, John Houseman and Marc Blitzstein rented another theatre, and let people attend at no cost. The actors were forbidden by Actors Equity to perform on stage, so they sang their roles from the house. Some of the actors were Howard Da Silva and Will Geer. In the 1980s, I know that I saw the Acting Company's production of The Cradle Will Rock, but I honestly can't remember if I saw it in a theatre or on PBS as part of American Playhouse. I do remember Patti Lupone's performance as Moll, the prostitute. In 1999, Tim Robbins directed a film called The Cradle Will Rock which is more about the controversy around the production than the musical itself. It was shot in New York with a wonderful group of theatre actors, including Bob Balaban, Victoria Clark, Greg Edelman, Barnard Hughes, Cherry Jones, Audra McDonald, Stephen Spinella, and Harris Yulin. The musical (Opera? Operetta? It's hard to know what to call it) is rarely performed. It is something akin to one of Brecht's Lehrstueck (learning play), and it certainly makes use of Brecht's alienation effect. It is still very American in its setting and tone. And perhaps it is no accident that Blitzstein's greatest success was his translation of Brecht and Kurt Weill's Die Dreigroschen Oper. (Can you tell I just finished reading a book about Brecht?) But there are plays of Brecht's where in spite of the politics and the alienation effect and the spareness of the text that still move. the audience. Despite the fine performances I saw Thursday night (and Brian Henry was excellent as A Gent, Junior Mister and Gus Polock), Blitzstein doesn't have the same effect on me. But see it before it's gone.
I always look forward to Alex Ross' music reviews in The New Yorker, and I just finished reading his survey of 20th century music, The Rest Is Noise. It is a very enjoyable read, particularly the first 300 pages, which deals with music up to the end of World War II. Ross' style makes the imparting of a great deal of information (some of which I knew, some of which I didn't) look effortless. Ross is particularly good at looking at connections between the arts (music and painting, music and literature), and how they feed off of each other. He is pretty snarky about the work of Olivier Messiaen, which I found surprising. Ross neglects to mention two of my favorite contemporary composers, Adam Guettel and Aaron Jay Kernis, and leaves out the recently deceased Donald Erb, though he finds room for Marc Blitzstein (is he really that important?). Most surprising to me was his nearly total neglect of women composers (Ellen Taaffee Zwilich included), despite the fact he mentions women librettists.
I have been thinking a lot about Park 51, the Islamic center proposed for Lower Manhattan. Not that I could get away from it, it's all over the media. It's our Jewish mayor (not our Catholic City Council President or our Catholic Governor) who is the loudest supporter of Park 51. Though I guess you have to give Paterson some credit for trying to mediate via the Archbishop. The Museum of Tolerance, I am saddened to report, only advocates tolerance for some people (see Gothamist, Museum of Tolerance Can't Tolerate Ground Zero Mosque, http://gothamist.com/2010/08/06/museum_of_tolerance_cant_tolerate_g.php ) What follows is a statement from Kwame Anthony Appiah, the President of the US branch of PEN, and I think he's right. PEN American Center Statement in Support of the Park51 Community Center
As members of the American literary community who believe in the universality of human experience and human rights,
As proud citizens and residents of a country that recognizes the free exercise of religion as a fundamental benchmark of freedom of thought and expression,
And as PEN Members pledged to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in our community and country, as in the world elsewhere,
We stand with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with religious leaders of all faiths, with political leaders of both major parties, and with all our friends and neighbors who support and celebrate the freedom to construct the Park51 Islamic Community Center on its city-approved site in lower Manhattan.
We oppose all efforts to circumscribe this freedom; we deplore the rhetoric of suspicion that seeks to deny our common humanity and shared aspirations; and we emphatically reject the tyranny of fear.
None of this is to deny the anguish of those who lost family and friends in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, nor is it to diminish the trauma we experienced and still clearly share.
Nevertheless, we are sure no lasting comfort or peace can come from abridging the rights of others or yielding to distrust and fear.
We have faith that the freedoms enumerated in our Bill of Rights are both the birthright of all and our best defense.
We invite everyone to join with us in reaffirming those freedoms and the power of civil discourse as the true vehicle for healing.
I’ve just finished the rewrite of my Anger (a.k.a. Wrath, Ire) scene for 7 Sins in 60 Minutes in its Philadelphia Fringe Festival incarnation. Completely new scene, which culminates in completely new violence. In the midst of that, I wrote up a little essay about what anger means to me, and how it plays out in the scene itself. A version of it follows:
Anger is incredibly insidious, I think because there are so many possible different manifestations of it. Unlike envy or gluttony, there are good kinds of anger, like God’s wrath or righteous anger, or used creatively, as Rainer Maria Rilke writes in Letters to a Young Poet, “Anger, cleanly used, is clean, too.” You can tell yourself your anger is righteous, though it very well may not be. Anger can be passive-aggressiveness, impatience, self-destructive behavior, vengeance or rage. The experience of rage, the way it literally feels like it’s taking you over, makes me understand why people used to believe in demonic possession. Because that’s what rage feels like- it crowds out everything else from your mind. It’s also exhausting to live with for any length of time- either in yourself, or in your house.
What I didn’t know until the last night of 7 Sins in 60 Minutes at HERE (because that’s when fight choreographer Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum told me and pride-playwright Cheryl Davis) is that each Deadly Sin/Virtue has a demon assigned to it (by a German bishop in the 16th century). It seems that Amon (the Wrath demon) is a quite powerful one who has 40 legions of lesser devils at his beck and call. His particular talent is manipulating love and hate situations with both friends and enemies. One of Amon’s physical manifestations is “a man with dog’s teeth who is situated inside of a raven” (which I still can’t conjure up completely in my mind).
In Scene 5, anger first manifests itself as Amadea’s impatience and Dante’s passive-aggressiveness (pretending to look for the tire jack that isn’t there, continuing his pitch while Amadea rages). They each put themselves and others in danger (anger with a soupcon of pride) by trying to flag down a car. It culminates in violence, anger’s physical manifestation.
The other show that my niece and I saw was Fela!, which we absolutely loved (she was skeptical at first, but came around). And kudos to Jay-Z, and Will & Jada Pinkett Smith for producing it. I only hope they produce more theatre as good as this. I would have given Fela! Best Musical in a minute. I'd heard an interview on Playbill with Lillias White when she was in rehearsal for the Off-Broadway incarnation of it, which sounded really intriguing. Still, even though Bill T. Jones isn't a dance-y theatre choreographer (Spring Awakening is proof of that), I'm not big on dance shows. We were fortunate enough to see Kevin Mambo (who I loved in Ruined) in the lead. What an incredible actor, and in that difficult a role, he barely had a moment's rest other than intermission. Wonderful acting, dancing (it look me back to African class in grad school), and music (with the onstage band in view most of the time), a story that's really about something: not only the biography of Fela Kuti, but the history of Nigeria and the never-ending legacy of colonialism. If you doubt me about colonialism, look at sub-Saharan Africa, India, Pakistan, the Middle East.... Marina Draghici (whose work was unknown to me) has designed a wonderful set that comes out into the house and by way of lights and projections, changes constantly. It's really fantastic. I could not recommend it more highly.
Two weeks ago, my eldest niece was here on her first trip to New York without her parents. She had a fantastic time. Her itinerary included seeing two musicals with me, one of which was American Idiot. She is a die-hard Green Day fan, and had already seen it several times. I liked director Michael Mayer's work in Spring Awakening a lot, so I was looking forward to it. I understand the impulse to take existing songs and try to build them into a show. For years, a friend of mine tried to do that with Elvis Costello songs, and I was all for it. For me, the danger with that process is the show will only be as good as its weakest song. I love the title song- I think it's deeply emblematic of the late '00s (oughts? Whatever). The punkier the songs, the more I enjoyed them. But the ballads did less for me, and in the case of Extraordinary Girl, I could not wait until it was over. It was so repetitive, musically and lyrically, even the acrobatics of Christina Sajous couldn't hold my attention. The rest of the audience didn't seem to feel that way at all. Many seemed to be big fans, singing along with the actors. Michael Mayer's staging (abetted by Steven Hoggett's choreographer) flowed beautifully, and made wonderful use of Christine Jones' set. The actors were uniformly good. I just wish they'd had better material to work with.
Shakespeare & Co. in Vienna is one of my favorite bookstores. It's not huge, but they have a wide range of books and I've never made a bad purchase there. I read Stefan Zweig's autobiography (The World of Yesterday) about fifteen years ago; since then I've read it multiple times. It is a moving description of growing up in Vienna before World War I. He wrote a few brief novels ("Letter from an Unknown Woman" among them- the book is much better than the movie), but mostly essays and biographies. Most famously, in 1935 he was Richard Strauss' librettist for The Silent Woman. When the Nazis told Strauss to take Zweig's name off the opera's program, he refused. The opera was banned after three performances. His longest novel, The Post Office Girl, wasn't translated into English until last year. In was found among his papers when he died. Zweig and his wife committed suicide (they were refugees from the Nazis) in 1942 in Brazil. The Post Office Girl does not end in double suicides, but it certainly starts going down that road. The time is the 1920s in Austria when much of what the war didn't destroy, the ruinous inflation did. Christine works in a post office outside of St. Polten. Her aunt, who ran away to America two decades earlier, is vacationing in Switzerland. She buys Christine a train ticket, and she goes to visit an Alpine resort for eight days, where her fellow hotel guests assume that she's upper class. Christine can't get enough of the clothes, the food, the attention that young men pay to her. A series of misunderstandings result in her being sent back home, and her vacation has ruined her for her old life. She meets up with an old war buddy of her brother-in-law's, Ferdinand. His outlook on life is similar to hers (he's struggled to build any kind of existence after two years in a Siberian POW camp and an injured right hand), but is barely subsisting on whatever jobs he can eke out. In some ways the novel feels particularly poignant given the current economic crisis. And Zweig is very able to get in this provincial young girl's head.
Henry Holt recently sent me a reviewer's copy of Kate Racculia's first novel, This Must Be the Place. I always want to like a new novel, not only because I'm making a commitment to finish it (this one clocks in at 350 pages). In many ways, this one shows great promise. The narrative proceeds at a steady clip and she juggles many characters seemingly effortlessly. This aspect of the novel reminded me of Richard Russo. The writing of the high school student characters seems truthful enough, though I didn't find any of them particularly engaging. The metaphor of Harry Hausen's films is certainly a fertile one. Unfortunately, there are some choices that Racculia made that I found very off-putting. First, she invokes a wide variety of popular music, but almost never of the period she's writing in. Instead of setting us firmly in a certain year or era, she wedges it into a different one, with confusing effect. Second, there is a preponderance of what my writer friend Vincent Brown refers to as "co-inky-dinks." There are so many coincidences, layered over one another, if Racculia had pushed it anymore this would be a post-modern, ironic comic novel (and I think all the better for it). The most egregious example of this is an art forger, the father of one of the high school boys. Astor is a security guard in a town (Ruby Falls, where most of the novel takes place) outside of Syracuse, New York. He has successfully forged works of Warhol, Basquiat, Chuck Close, Dali, Balthus, Gaugin, Magritte and Munch. At this point, my much-stretched credulity snapped. Racculia then goes on to have Astor's pal Terry pick up a suitcase full of Joseph Cornell's ephemera for creating his boxes at a yard sale. At the end of the novel, Oneida, now grown, finds the fake Cornell box that she helped to assemble in the house of her art history professor. One hopes that Racculia will profit from her over-reaching, and go on to write again.
Years ago, I saw an expose of the Magdalene Laundries on 60 Minutes. My friend Jeff saw it, too (we lived across Second Avenue from each other then). He thought I should try to get the U.S. rights to it- that it would make a great play. I told him I thought they were gone (which they were). In retrospect, I think of the revelations about the Magdalene Laundries as the beginning of the implosion of the Catholic Church in Ireland. But it wasn't until this week that I saw writer/director Peter Mullens' film "The Magdalene Sisters." The usually whimsical Geraldine McEwan stars as Sister Bridget, the nun in charge of this asylum. The film follows the fates of three women incarcerated in the asylum. By the end of the film, two escape, and one is in an insane asylum. Also on the DVD is Sex in a Cold Climate, the documentary that the film is based on. One statistic I made note of is that an estimated 30,000 women passed through these laundries in the course of their existence. It didn't take much to get put one; one character gets sent to the laundry from an orphanage because she's just too pretty. Even one of these films (I watched both in one night) is a lot to take. I couldn't have lived with any of this long enough to write a play about it. The screenplay is great, and the performances are good. But half an hour into it, I was overwhelmed with the despair and grief and oppression that these women lived with. I wouldn't advise watching it unless you're not feeling at all depressed.
As luck would have it, Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum was available to choreograph the fights in my scene. I've just blogged about it for the 7 Sins website (see below). The link to buy tickets to the HERE performances is above. Last Wednesday, we got to hear “7 Sins in 60 Minutes” for the first time. Rehearsals are usually my favorite part of the writing process. It’s always exciting to hear your words aloud for the first time. There are always a few “oh, my God, what was I thinking?” moments, when that line that looked so great on paper sounds so bad you want to hide under your chair. But that’s all part of it.
My second rehearsal was on Saturday, and I had an experience that I’d never had before. For my scene (Anger), we had a professional fight choreographer, Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum. This is an unheard of luxury for me! I’ve written plays with punches or slaps or falls in them, but it was always a matter of the actors, and/or the director, and/or me, stumbling through working things out. I’m not sure what to ascribe my fascination with stage violence to. As a teenager, I did take stage combat classes, and one in graduate school. I also spent many hours watching cartoons (Warner Brothers’ “Merrie Melodies,” and “Popeye”) and “The Three Stooges.”
When I’m writing scenes with violence or a lot of physicality in them, I have a tendency to go crazy (in one play I have a character on roller skates while she keeps a hula hoop rotating around her waist; it’s never actually been staged like that), or suck as much violence out of it as possible, so that it’s a pale imitation of what it was originally in my head. I did not do that in this instance, because in the back of my mind, I’d hoped that Jacob would be able to do the fights. He is attuned to the sounds of fighting in a way that I’ve never seen or heard before. If you saw his work in “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” or “Sailor Man,” you will know what I mean. Jacob’s sense of humor always informs his work, so his fights are never what you’ve already seen somewhere else.
In rehearsal, I finally got to watch him work his magic. Karen Soars and Michael Rosete didn’t hold back at all, but literally jumped right in with both feet. Breaking fights into pieces is slow, exacting work; even more so than dance choreography, I think. I guess I think of fight sequences as teeny one-acts in themselves: they start one place, end somewhere else, and if they’re good, at the end you’re happily surprised at where they’ve landed. By the end of 90 minutes, Karen and Michael were getting comfortable with putting the pieces together, and it did not take a lot of imagination to visualize what it would look like when it was performed: violent, and funny, and totally specific to “7 Sins” and the characters. I like having a professional around!
So a couple of months ago my friend Cheryl Davis tells me she's been chosen to work on this project with six other playwrights: 7 Sins in 60 Minutes. She's one of my closest friends, but I admit to being envious of her opportunity. I've written a play about avarice (It's Called Development) and I spent years of my life working on an adaptation of Goethe's Faust (a lot of pride). In March, Cheryl told me that they were short a playwright, and would I be interested in working on it? I said sure, and after meeting with director Melanie Sutherland, I was in. So that as I was working on Our Dolls, I was simultaneously writing and rewriting my scene (anger) for 7 Sins (link above). We had our first reading last Wednesday. It's always interesting to hear the play for the first time, but seven different writers writing the same characters made it really interesting. And despite my worst fears, it really all hangs together. In addition to Cheryl, the writers are Paula Cizmar, Olga de la Fuente, Chisa Hutchinson (who just won the first Lilly Award), Natalia Naman, and Melisa Tien. Great writers and wonderful people. 7 Sins' first incarnation will be at HERE in July, part of their Summer Sublet series. In September, we go to the Philly Fringe Festival, and in August '11 (it looks funny to type that), to Edinburgh.
We had a technical rehearsal tonight, which went swimmingly. The actresses (Emily Louise Perkins- dark- and Michelle O'Conner- blonde) are ready, the director (Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum) gave good notes, and I took photos. The easiest way to get tickets is to show up, or call Ovation (212.352.3101). Theatermania is really confusing. I've had a note to myself sitting on the coffee table in my living room for the past two weeks, to blog about what inspired this play. Jacob actually asked me the question a few weeks ago, and I gave him an incorrect answer. I said it was too much St. Paul in church for too many years (a Bible scribe not known for his great love of women). But there are two other elements. One is a feast day now called the Feast of the Presentation (aka Candlemass, aka the Feast of the Circumcision) February 2nd) and something I read in a local paper. I sang in the quartet at my church on the Feast of the Presentation last February. The Hebrew Bible reading for that day is an endless section of Leviticus about the proper mikvah practices for the young mother, be it of a boy or girl. I also remember asking my mother about the Christian equivalent of that, the Churching of Women (yet again reminding me how much Christians stole from the Jews). It's a set of prayers said over a mother after a birth, before she's allowed back into church. But it's not "gee, we're really glad you didn't die in childbirth" prayers. It's more "you're unclean, and need to be purified." When I was born, the priests couldn't have cared less. But they were quite interested in making her submit to this when my brothers were born. And she rightly said, "No. There's nothing dirty about having a baby." What really set me off was this: when I first moved to Brooklyn, I was looking for activities for us to do on weekends. And in one local paper or another, I came across an article for a Williamsburg walking tour (I've spent very little time there, though Tom used to work in Greenpoint). But when I got to the end of article, it said that because so many Hasids live in the neighborhood, this is how women should dress for the walk: no exposed arms, or legs. And it just made me crazy. It's New York City, in the 21 century, and I need to cover my elbows and knees? WTF? I have been called a feminist playwright (which is totally bizarre to me). I only think about parity. And don't like having to defend it. But I remember, when I worked at St. Joseph's College in Brooklyn, one of my work/study students (I, too, was a work/study student in college) said to me, "My pastor said we may not show our arms above the wrist, and our skirts must be mid-calf." What I wanted to say (and did not) was: never, ever let a man tell you what you must do.
My latest short play, Our Dolls, is part of this summer's Shortened Attention Span Festival. It's directed by one of my favorite colleagues, Jacob Grigolia-Rosembaum, and features Emily Perkins and Michelle O'Conner. You may recall Michelle's performance in Boozy- I certainly do. The play is about two coworkers, Bitsy and Heather, in the Our Dolls factory. Its theme is organized religions and women. And Barbie dolls, too. It's at The Players Loft (the third floor black box at The Player's Theatre, 115 Macdougal Street at Minetta Lane). The show runs June 17th through 20th: Thursday at 8, Friday & Saturday at 9 and Sunday at 3 (n.b., that Sunday is Father's Day). Tickets are available through Theatre Mania (link above), at the door or call 212.352.3101.
I just found two stray photos of St. Stephen's Church in Baden bei Wien. One is of the baroque-era plague saints (Sebastian and Rocco, note his dog in the lower right), and the other is of the organ that Mozart composed for. Same organ.
Before my trip to Bratislava, I made a list of books to look for about that part of the world. I have done this for all my my trips to Central Europe, so there are books I've already read. Frederic Morton's "Thunder at Twilight" is fantastic, but I've read it too many times. Out of the fifteen books on my list this round, only one was available at the Strand- Robert W. Gutman's "Mozart: A Cultural Biography." I finally finished it early this week, and it was a lot to haul around. But it was really good. Gutman ties together a bunch of different things- Mozart's day-to-day life, his family relationships, the power of royalty and the church, the evolution of musical forms in his lifetime, other important contemporary composers (like Gluck, and the Haydn brothers), along with the broader intellectual life of Western Europe and England. I can never think of England as European- it's a thing unto itself. Two aspects of the book were particularly gratifying to me. One was the explication of why Mozart wrote "Ave Verum Corpus" for the organist at Baden for the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was because the priest, Anton Stoll, was so helpful in looking after Constanze Mozart while she recuperated in Baden. The other are the parallels that Gutman finds between Mozart and Goethe. (Mozart and Goethe together- what's better than that?!) Though I think of Goethe as much later than Mozart, he was actually seven years older. And lived a lot longer. I also learned that for all the eager Austrian embracing of Amadeus, Salzburg (while the see of a bishopric) was in Bavaria, not in the Empire at all.
On my trip, I only spent a day in Vienna, not counting Baden and going to and from the airport. I did some research in an archive; I didn't really find any new information, but it was laid out somewhat differently than what I was used to, and it certainly gave me better context than I'd had. Then we decided we needed a pick me up, before we soldiered on to Shakespeare & Co., so we stopped at Cafe Hawelka. It is my favorite Viennese coffeehouse. I'm sure it's touristy (it's in all the guidebooks), but it doesn't feel touristy. It does not serve my favorite poppyseed cake (that would be Cafe Diglas), but it is centrally located, the coffee is fantastic, there's usually interesting conversation to be had with the staff- it's just very comfortable. There was usually Mr. or Mrs. Hawelka near the kitchen, keeping an eye on the dining room. Mrs. Hawelka died in 2005, but Mr. Hawelka (at 99 years old) looks exactly the same as he did when I first saw him 15 years ago. As I was paying the check, the waiter took my hand, bowed his head, and murmured, "Kuss die Hand," and I almost fainted. I thought "I kiss your hand" and the drill had fallen out of usage around 1920. I blurted out, "Servus," which I thought I was supposed to say. I will never forget that waiter. As ever, Shakespeare & Co. did not disappoint. I found a first-time translation of a Stefan Zweig story, and a book about the man who wrote "Ali and Nino." My friend Daniela found a book on African gold weights (she actually has some, but couldn't find much information on them). We walked through the Hofburg and out to the Margaretengurtel, until we reached the Imperial Furniture Museum (Hofmobiliendepot). It's what is left (and not currently being used) of the Habsburgs' furniture collection. They had so many palaces that it was standard practice to move the furniture from place to place, as the monarch traveled. Many chairs, beds, desks, chamberpots- and an inordinate number of spitoons. There are also beautiful period rooms. Where the Habsburgs known as big spitters? I'd been there before (my friend had not), but now the museum has grown to four floors. We barely made it though the whole thing, and we skipped the special Ikea exhibit. The other special exhibit was of the furniture from the Sissi movies (all of which I've seen in the past year). I hadn't realized that in all the Hofburg scenes in the movies, they used the real furniture. There is a link to the museum above.
Two Sunday ago, the choir that I'm in was singing Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus." At one point I started reading the front matter, when I should have been watching the choirmaster, and saw that Mozart had composed "Ave Verum Corpus" for a buddy of his, who was the choirmaster at the parish church in Baden bei Wien in 1792. Total serendipity! The church was originally Romanesque, and was added to in the Gothic and Baroque styles. It was damaged in the three big sieges of the Turks (the Turks never made it inside the Vienna city walls, but they were certainly in what is Vienna proper today). The steeple dates from that time. The organ was transferred from a church in Vienna five years before Mozart's composition. There is an arresting memorial to the troops who perished in Stalingrad. Three beautiful Baroque statues are clustered around one pillar- St. Sebastian, St. Gregory, and a lovely St. Rocco with a dog lying at his feet. These saints are patrons against the plague, in addition to St. Rocco being the patron saint of dogs. At the base of the staircase leading up to the organ, there is a plaque commemorating the first performance of "Ave Verum Corpus." The photograph of the church steeple is taken from the Kurpark.
That means the Baden by Vienna, not to be confused with Baden-Baden in Germany. "Bad" means "spa," so they are both spa towns. I have wanted to go to Baden bei Wien since the first time I went to Vienna, about fifteen years ago, but it never happened. It's so near to Vienna that you can actually take a streetcar there. So a week ago Thursday, my friend Daniela and I drove to Baden from Bratislava. It is absolutely beautiful. A huge park (the Kurpark) filled with formal flower gardens, including a rosarium (which wasn't in bloom yet), a big hill to ramble up and down, a large Kurhaus (where you can take the waters, though we did not) and monuments to Beethoven, Joseph Lanner and Johan Strauss the Younger. There was a big fire in Baden in 1812, so much of the town was rebuilt after that. A number of the Habsburgs spent time in Baden, including Kaiser Franz II (the last Holy Roman Emperor), Kaiser Franz Josef (his longtime girlfriend, Katherina Schratt, was a Baden native) and the last Kaiser, Karl I (who, after his abdication, spent some time in Massachusetts and died in Madeira). Other famous Baden-ites include the great director Max Reinhardt, and Count Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote "Venus im Pelze" ("Venus in Fur"), and inspired the term "sado-masochism." Beethoven wrote the "Missa Solemnis" in Baden, and finished his Ninth Symphony there as well. There is a temple to Beethoven some way up the hill in the Kurpark. The ceiling has a fresco depicting the creatures of Prometheus, and part of Beethoven's death mask is emerging out of the back wall. Near the top of the Kurpark- it turned out to be more of a hike than we'd counted on- is a really eclectic museum, the Kaiser-Franz-Josef museum. There are weapons, Austro-Hungarian Empire Army uniforms, a nice collection of old cameras I thought my sister would love, a room of Baden mementos (dance cards, photographs, ball gowns, etc.), some interesting 18th century Roman religious art on paper, and a strange collection of 16th and 17th century mouse traps. Mice must have gotten smarter- I can't imagine a New York City mouse falling for any of them. The photos are of the Stadt Theatre, a fountain near the city hall, the Kurpark and the Beethoven Temple.
This castle is in the Small Carpathian Mountains in Slovakia, outside of Bratislava. It is called Hrad Cerveny Kamen (I know like six Slovak words, and one of them is "hrad"). What made it particularly interesting was that my friend had a summer job as a guide at this very same castle when she was in college. We saw several peacocks, including a white one. And a regular old peacock, but sitting in a tree- neither of us had ever seen a peacock in a tree before. Cerveny Kamen (translated as "Red Stone" (the stone at the castle's foundations is red) was built in 1230 to mark the divide between the Hungarian and Bohemian realms by Queen Constance of Bohemia. In the 1500s, it was bought by a German family named Fugger that made a lot of money in mining copper. They rebuilt the castle, and in 1583 sold it to the Palffy family (who have some very nice palaces in Vienna). The Palffys lived there until 1945, and the estate was nationalized, along with everything else in Slovakia, in 1948. It's now a museum run by the national government. Everything about the castle is immense, particularly the bastions, and you get a real sense of it as a fortification, as opposed to just a big house. I liked the lion statues in the courtyard, because their open mouths make them look like they're smiling. The figure on the fountain is a stag standing on his hind legs, on top of a wagon wheel. If you tied antlers on my dog, he's look exactly like that that stag. It's a depiction of the Palffy family crest.
After the prince's death, the castle passed on to his niece, and was later bought by Kaiserin Maria Theresia (as if the Habsburgs didn't have enough palaces). She spent a good deal of time here with her family, and you can see her bedroom, and other rooms that have been restored to their decoration of that time (she was very big on chinoiserie). There are several fountains (the one pictured is the spirit of the Danube), and lovely views of the mountains. It's really something.
So there was this French guy, Eugene of Savoy, who went to King Louis XIV to get an officer's commission. The king said no, so he tried his luck in Austria. Kaiser Leopold I made Prince Eugene a cavalry officer, and he went on to lead many battles, amassing power and wealth as he went. Prince Eugene built the Upper and Lower Belvedere Palaces for himself in Vienna (nothing to sneeze at), but he still needed a country place. So he built himself the Schloss Hof, not far from the Slovak border. It may not be bigger than Versailles, but it feels bigger than Versailles. It's a large house, surrounded by immense flower gardens, and it still has the out buildings of a farm (stable, kitchen, woodworking shop, etc.). It also has an eclectic group of animals, some of them rare breeds: goats (we saw some very cute, stumbling kids); horses (some Lipizzaners); sheep; European bison; chickens; white donkeys and long-horn cattle. The flowers gardens were amazing, particularly considering it was late April: beautiful tulips of varying varieties, surrounded by pansies. The painting is by Canaletto.