Today I didn't even have to use my AK; I got to say it was a good day.


Let’s leave our world for a little, let’s leave breaking news from Syria. Let’s talk about Colette-- let’s talk about her, because, it’s impossible to take her in and not want to have a conversation. I was struck by it the other day, sending a passage from Earthly Paradise (her collected personal writings, always on my nightstand as it serves the dual purpose of bedtime story and holy book) to a friend in which she writes, “But I did have the habit-- and still have-- of marveling.” It felt generous of Colette to remind me of her talent and identity. A woman, an artist of great and feminine majesty.

There’s a documentary of her, in her last years, being interviewed in the Paris apartment where she famously retired overlooking the Palais Royal. I’ve seen a clip of it. Colette is a mountain of a woman with delicate features and a soft, large shock of white hair that recollects the court of Marie Antoinette at Versailles. A large silk pillow pushes her forward in the generous armchair; her companion (is it Cocteau?) sits perfectly forward in an upright side chair just out of frame but Colette, in her dressing gown, is suggestive as always of being in bed. The gentleman pours her coffee and they discuss with slight, deep pleasure the activity of children in the bright park outside. Colette receives her cup and cream and navigates her sugar and mail with the deft and delicate movements of a hostess and a dancer. As she is, as she was born. There is a muscle memory in her of a woman who has handled affectionate cats and luxurious dresses and the faces of cruel or pliant men like a jeweler, all her life.

The subtitles are as inadequate as they are unimportant. But they tell us, the man speaking first: “Many letters?” “Quite enough.” “About the post, what about the film they want to make? The one about you. What d’you think?” ”That I’m no longer photogenic,” Colette says, pouting, and lifts her arms to the height of her heart, protectively. Shoulder up to hide her head behind an imaginary fur piece, a bouquet of violets that don’t exist. A pout, flirt! At her age! A French woman. More than Brassai or Atget, more than Balzac or Rodin or Renoir, Colette allowed me, all the way in America, all the way in a different millennium, to understand the concept of a French woman. A costless, sensual existence punctuated with sharp and expensive accessories. A life executed in pleasure.

I remember having that lesson confirmed by a Frederick Wiseman documentary on the Paris Opera Ballet a few years ago. Three hours of footage with the whole soft machine: the dressmakers, the dancers and teachers, the men who vacuum the floors. All of them shown to live lives that hold the sensory at a level just above the sensible. In Paris, I think, they have a habit of getting their groceries fresh every day. No need for the deep freeze or the vending machine-- food is processed in the body, not the factory. There is pride in the autonomy of it, and a satisfaction in the beauty it brings. Americans who stop short in their understanding of it often call it smug.

Bachelard, in The Poetics of Space, wrote in his essay on Miniature: “Thus the minuscule, a narrow gate, opens up an entire world.” I understand this, the value of it, in the way I consume and record the world. I grew up learning from poetry, which, at one of its more manageable bests is a moment that implies an entire existence, the world through the keyhole. But Colette is not looking through the keyhole. She is throwing wide the door and letting the summer air wash over her bedspread. Colette is receiving visitors in her dark apartments, Colette is pregnant and prone to naps at all hours of the day. Colette is young and ill in Paris, married to a man who takes advantage of her talent and beauty, and her mother is coming in from the country to buy her a warm winter coat. Colette is spending her only money on cups of warm chocolate infused with lavender, and cherished by people of influence who care for her. Colette is devoted to that which captures her attention; she is recklessly alive in the world.

She taught me how to revel in regret at the loss of beauty that age brings, and how to accept a compliment from a man. When Jack and I visit my older friends Arthur and Barbara for the holidays the other week I am dressed for a party; it is one of the first cold days of winter and Barbara tells the two of us we look like a Russian couple. So it's easy to laugh right away while we unwrap ourselves from the coats and hats, and then there's cold cider in champagne flutes for toasting. We sit at their table and talk about decisions I have to make and the perspective I’ve lost in my worries, and Arthur tells me, “No one who walks in a room looking like you did today has to worry about anything.” I know the beauty of how I accept it from Colette, the shy instinctive shoulder raise. My friend sees it, sitting next to me. He can’t stop staring.

Colette loved the attention and relished in playfully turning away from it. Because the raised shoulder is a gesture of protection, but a reveal of the shoulder as well. The strong, naked lines of it. A diaphanous veneer of modesty over a true and stunning soul. In Colette-- in her writing and her existence-- every movement is calculated, but careless. It is remarkably easy to stumble into it and fall down someplace soft and fragrant. She is a pleasure to read and to know.


Sir Simon Rattle Conducts the Berlin Philharmonic

Last night I saw Sir Simon Rattle conduct the Berlin Philharmonic through Brahms’ Third and Fourth Symphonies at Carnegie Hall. I had to wait on line for four hours starting at 7 am to get standby tickets, and it was completely worth it.

I love going to watch the orchestra because each time I realize I pay attention to a different element of the performance, and it always brings more to my experience of listening to the music at home. Sir Simon Rattle captivated me right away: he is a dancer. And a priest. And a knight— a real one!

The way he conducts: it's like he is climbing a rope ladder. And dancing late at night with his bride in a cafe. And saving a child from falling into a ravine. And riding a horse. And embroidering a pillowslip. And accusing someone of guilt in a court of law. And conjuring polytheistic gods! So transparent and still, so subtle: the orchestra understands him exactly. And offers, and waits. Between the first two movements of the Third Symphony, he held the silence for such a long time… a minute at least, until the entire auditorium was quiet and the orchestra still. The control, the humility.

As wonderful as it is to listen to something as flirtatious, effusive and full as Brahms' Fourth Symphony, for me it’s also a frustrating experience: the music is so immediate. You will never be able to reach inside the moment of it and hold it step by step. But Sir Simon has found a way: command through gesture and movement the artists who make the sound.


And at the end of the performance, instead of only gesturing to the soloists like some conductors will, he walked over to them: kissed them, held their hands in his hands. Moving through the field of the musicians as though he was walking through a garden. It was one of the most beautiful and gracious displays of intelligent power I have ever seen.

ABT dances Romeo and Juliet

Last night I saw American Ballet Theater dance Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. The New York Times has a pretty derisive review of it today, but I liked their description of the production as a "workhorse". It's true-- it's a very traditional, theatrical production. It's the kind of production your boyfriend is thinking of when he rolls his eyes at the thought of going to the ballet.

But the music is incredible. Prokofiev wrote two ballets, this one and Cinderella, and I love both of them so much. Even though I absolutely know Prokofiev was working in the early decades of the 20th century, I'm always surprised to remember it for some reason. Somewhere in my mind I think he lived in the 19th century, but it isn't true and there are lots of influences in his music to remind me of it. Early pop standards, Stravinsky, jazz. Prokofiev reminds me of Douglas Sirk because they both have this talent for hiding the sinister inside the saccharine... the love theme from Romeo and Juliet is a great example of this I think. It's way too much... swelled to the point of soap operatic, like it's poking fun at itself. I think he's much more earnest in little peeking moments... Juliet's dance with Paris at the ball is lovely, all chimes and flutes, light and moving beat to beat, little teenager's heartbeat. Or the couples' dance in Act II, which has this funny little chasing phrase in it. Like, lifting the edge of something to peer under it. He does this a lot.

The song of the knights at the ball-- this is the one that always makes it onto "Top 100 Classical Hits" compilations-- is the heaviest bloodflow of a song I've ever heard. It's like a river of blood just washing and washing over the stage. I love the choreography for it in the ABT production because it's just this slow, steady dance by the whole company and it looks incredible in costume. Like an army of late Medieval, early Renaissance paintings. That kind of heavy stillness.

And there's this phrase Prokofiev repeats over and over right at the end of the ballet-- in the ABT choreography it's when Juliet is stretching over the top of her tomb to touch Romeo's hand before she dies-- and it's so beautiful. The movement, but really the music. It's so quiet and calming, like a very sad lullaby. That's another thing I love about the score-- it seems to stress that these are kids, more than a little unaware of the consequences of their actions. Romeo and Juliet is one of those stories where the real tragedy is that it didn't have to be a tragedy.

Gillian Murphy danced Juliet. I thought she was lovely. It's funny because, she's so tall, it makes some things look ridiculous-- like her jumping into her nurse's lap-- and it makes other things look amazing, like when she reaches her arms up from the floor to clasp her father's neck in a plea not to marry Paris. These long, white arms just stretching and stretching. Juliet is a part with a lot of acting in it compared to the lead in other ballets, but the moments when she really dances were lovely. All the sinewy, flustered turns &lifts in the balcony scene with that pretty, thin skirt fluttering around her in the blue light.

Lincoln Center looks wonderful. The new LED banners on the risers of the front steps are a soft, cold white, and the new fountain is lovely at night. Afterwards I went to the Manhattan Center to say hello to some friends at the final night of Amma's annual visit to the city, but I had to leave and listen to the ballet on my headphones outside for a few minutes because it was way too much to go from ABT to a 24-hour kirtan in 45 minutes. New York is insane.