Wednesday, February 28, 2018

the renovation blues

So okay, it was a nice idea while it lasted, my renovation plan to create an apartment upstairs in my house. As I've said, John has already punched holes in the walls and ceilings, locating beams and plumbing. I had to clear out a little storage room for him to do so; boxes of files and photographs are crammed into my office. Chaos. Well, yesterday a man named Brian came to take a look at my brilliant ideas. His job is to take people's reno plans to the city for approval, so he knows all the city regulations. Hello, wakeup call.

Immediately, Brian told me a city inspector would say the spiral staircase to the third floor, which we've used a million times since moving in here in 1986, would not pass code and would need to be replaced. Every single wall between what would be my home and the new apartment would have to be lined with fire retardant and "sound attenuation" baffles, including my living room ceiling, which would have to come down. There would have to be fire dampers in all the ducts. And more, much more. As he spoke, I felt weaker and weaker until I had to sit down.

The cost would be astronomical and the disruption enormous.

So. Not. Though Anna did suggest, if I decide to do it anyway, that I wait till next year when I'm not working and simply go away for 4 or 5 months while they do the work.

I don't think so. Time for Plan B, only I'm not sure what that is. Maybe trying to do something much less there, a much more basic space, which would be far less expensive to create - and also, of course, bring in far less income.

I don't know. I'm confused. Because to tell you the truth, part of me is relieved. My childhood friend Ron, a lawyer developer who knows all about real estate and city regulations, is coming over on Saturday (after he spends the morning riding his horse, which is boarded north of the city) to chew it over with me. In the meantime, my walls are full of holes and my office is full of boxes.

But I'm feeling human, at least, after more than a week of feeling lousy - fighting a bug, and winning. Yes! I hardly did anything physical, sucked back soup and juice, slept in - and it didn't get in. Though just saying this makes me nervous. These things hang around waiting for their chance. Anyway, that's why I don't have much to tell you.

As a recovery treat I bought some organic Irish salmon from the new fish store on Parliament Street - so expensive, it's like caviar - and my own personal tall tattooed chef is here preparing us dinner. I've been going through old papers, trying to throw stuff out and get my office back in order. Threw out an entire file marked "Indignant Letters;" there were many, and indignant they were. Took all the photos out of two battered albums - put the pix in a box, threw away the albums. This work is going to take a long time.

Found this photo of my dad. Who could resist him?
Found my identity card from theatre school in 1971 - such a serious young woman.
So yes, this work is hard, but fun. Going backwards into memory, and forward into the next adventure. Whatever that may be.

Monday, February 26, 2018


Oh Rogers, my internet provider, for this I pay you hundreds a month? Last night, Jean-Marc and Richard were due to come over to watch the final episode of "Victoria" - not a great series but entertaining with the usual amazing sets and costumes. I had a few other things flagged to watch, including the end of the Olympics, and then I was going to blog to you. Luckily, I turned on the TV in advance to check - no TV. Black screen.

And then I saw - no internet. Unplugged the TV, unplugged the modem and replugged both - nothing. My cellphone wouldn't pick up messages; this is the problem when everything - internet, TV, cellphone - is with the same company! Completely out of touch, except for the archaic technology of the telephone. I called my neighbours to say don't come, and sat in tech-less silence. Read the newspaper. Read my book, Rachel Cusk's "Transit" which I am enjoying far more than I'd expected to. Went to bed. This morning, still nothing. A Rogers message says work is being done and this neighbourhood is down. I am sitting at Jean-Marc's dining-room table drinking his coffee and using his wifi while he works in the next room.

So lost without the 'net.  Imagine, we all used to live that way once. The Dark Ages!

Saturday I went to see Pepperland, Mark Morris's dance tribute to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album, fifty years old now. Very entertaining and lively with gorgeous music, some a distillation of the album, and some completely new. The composer's name is on the program which is at my house. Take my word for it - it was good, especially with the theremin wavering away like an unearthly human voice.

I'm sure there's more to say - mostly, that it's beautiful and warm out with bright sun, so very very welcome. The snow is almost gone. Winter's not over, says the newspaper - of course not, it's February. But we need to feel warm air, even temporarily. I am sleepless at night, tossing, and sometimes I think about the pioneers in February. Unimaginable.

Hope to talk to you again soon, when the gods open up the magic portals again.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

the love of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir

I don't watch the winter Olympics - or much of the summer ones either, for that matter. Not out of any ethical objection, it's great that there are magnificent young people out there making magnificent use of their bodies and their equipment, but I have other things to do. As opposed to my dear Aunt Do, who at nearly 98 spends much of her day watching young athletes exert themselves.

But this - I just watched Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's ice dancing gold medal performance online, and then a tribute to them through the years, to the music of my beloved Jim Cuddy, and - of course - wept. The lives of these two are unimaginable. They say they are "not a couple," and yet they must have spent countless hours together, since childhood, learning everything about each other's bodies and minds - more intimate, trusting, and connected than any married couple. Deeply moving. Ours.

Great artists make what they do look easy.

Especially joyful to watch as we in Canada stomp through February; everybody is sick or fighting a cold - as am I - and tired of ice and bleakness. But then, there's this:

Just heard a radio interview with an American who was on one of the planes that landed at Gander on 9/11 - his character appears in "Come from away," which has just opened here in Toronto and is still a smash hit in New York. He told the interviewer that he, a hapless American refugee, was so impressed with the people of Newfoundland, their incredible generosity and kindness, that when he got home, he changed his life, sold his business in Austin, Texas, and is now working full-time for the good of refugees everywhere.

As we read about the right-wing press doing their best to destroy the passionate, self-possessed, articulate, formidable student survivors of the latest U.S. massacre, and as another cold, dank February day winds down, it's good to be reminded of just how fabulous human beings can be.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Mr. Smith goes to Washington

Rode my bike to the Y this morning for the first time in at least a month; it was cold but bearable. People are talking hopefully about spring. Fools! How long have you lived in Canada?!

Today, a lull, the Sunday of a long weekend; the city feels sleepy and tranquil. But the world feels dangerous and torn and full of frightening upheaval. Perhaps this latest horror in the U.S. will be the turning point, we think. How can the morally bankrupt Republicans ignore the desperate, heartfelt pleas of teenagers whose friends were gunned down in front of them? And yet they can and they will. How can Trump lie and lie and lie again and get away with it? How can some countries be sliding backward toward dictatorship? And yet he does, and they are.

And here, in my house, is mess. John is here cutting through the walls of a big storage closet on the second floor which will eventually be turned into my bathroom; somewhere in there are plumbing pipes from many years ago - it was a bathroom when we moved here in 1986 - and he needs to find them. So I had to clean out the space, which was jammed full - of clothing, files, books, papers, family DVD's, years of research, boxes of letters and souvenirs - in short, a nightmare, a huge job that needs to be done. The whole reno will be like that, forcing me to make decisions and get rid of stuff. It's not just that I have a tiny hoarding tendency and a second-hand store habit, but also that I keep papers and books as research for future articles, and I inherited a ton from my mother, a champion saver, and other relatives. It's all here, under this roof. By the end of the year, my space in this house will have shrunk by half, and so much of this massive amount of stuff needs to go.

On a more cheerful note, I used my travel points yesterday to book my yearly April travel. This year, no Paris with Lynn, sadly, and no Italy with Bruce, even more sadly. But happily, I am going once more to Vancouver and then on to Gabriola Island, where my dear Chris now has a log cabin with two spare bedrooms and three adorable animals. We will walk and talk and cook and watch DVD's and sit in his hot tub, and I will fill my city soul with ocean and Vitamin G (for green). If it works out, I could alternate my late winter getaway - one year to France, one year to Gabriola. That sounds like a heavenly combo to me.

Last night I watched "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" on TCM. I saw it many years ago but was thrilled to watch it again - Jimmy Stewart delightful as a naive but passionately honest politician nearly crushed by a corrupt party machine and big money - but truth and decency win and he is triumphant. Particularly relevant today, it should be obligatory viewing for every politician in the world. From Wikipedia:
When a ban on American films was imposed in German occupied France in 1942, some theaters chose to show Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as the last movie before the ban went into effect. One theater owner in Paris reportedly screened the film nonstop for 30 days after the ban was announced.

Now that's a powerful work of art! And then I watched a documentary on Billy Wilder, Austrian Jew, brilliant interpreter of America, simultaneously with a doc on female sexuality and desire. A fun Saturday night.

In the random pile of papers on my desk are transcriptions from my early diaries, this one from when I was sixteen, in Grade 13 in Ottawa.

Feb. 16, 1967
Michael said to me today, "I wonder why daddy doesn't like you, Beth."

One day I will be standing, in the late evening, waiting for a bus. It will be winter, snowing but not cold. There will be a wall behind me, on a level below my shoulders, with a layer of new snow on top. I will begin smoothing the snow off, pushing it away, brushing happily. Suddenly a boy will come up to me and say, "Please don't do that, you're making it ugly again," and I will look at him gravely and say, "It IS ugly. It's black and hard and lumpy. I'm only expressing its true self."

And then we will both know that it's a beautiful wall, for it stops people from falling into the canal, and because it can be leaned on or over, and huddled against, and simply because it's there, to have snow brushed from it. And then the boy and I will not ruin our moment of perfect comprehension and love, and we'll get on our separate busses and zoom off. 

Will we ever see each other again? Will I go on brushing, every winter, hoping he will reappear?

Devastating to read what my brother said; this was not a happy time in my life. No idea what all the rest means. That same year, I wrote an essay for Mr. Mann's English class that he returned with "A wordy concoction of pseudo-philosophy - C +" written on it; it stings still. But this is why I keep paper. What a privilege to have a view of my thoughts more than 50 years ago.

So True coming up: Sunday March 4

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February 18, 2018

Put it out there.

"When you are offered the chance to read your work to an audience, say 'yes.' Do it even if you feel anxious or would rather back out. Bring a friend along if you need moral support."

Angela Post writes young adult and children's books when not working as a psychologist. Her story Changing Connections made the longlist for the 2017 CBC Nonfiction Prize.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Nothing more to be said. Just mourning. I heard the mother of a dead child on the radio and burst into tears. What insanity leads a country to allow the murder, the slaughter of its children, over and over again?

We are grieving with Parkland. But we are not powerless. Caring for our kids is our first job. And until we can honestly say that we're doing enough to keep them safe from harm, including long overdue, common-sense gun safety laws that most Americans want, then we have to change.


It was so mild today, my friend Ken asked, "Is winter over?" Ha! NOT. But still, today was like spring, only with lots of filthy melting snow. Loud noises in my house - icicles falling off the roof.

Again, besides the mildness, there were two great gifts today. My Thursday was laid out, and then this morning I received an email from Ken. "I know it's last minute - can you make 'Spettacolo' at 1.30?" No, I could not - I had a student coming at 1.30 to work on her So True piece and a piano lesson at 3. But Ken is one of my dearest friends who was recently ill for weeks; this was a movie I wanted very much to see and today its last showing, and the morning, though mild, was gloomy and dark, the sun came later. A perfect occasion to see a film set in a Tuscan village.

I changed both appointments and was on my way. And how glad I am. It's a gorgeous, moving documentary, as much a eulogy to a past now vanishing as to a creative way of life and to the power of theatre. Inspired by an extremely dramatic rescue of all its citizens from the Nazi's in 1944, the entire village becomes involved, every summer, in creating "autodramas" - plays about their daily lives, written by and starring themselves. Fifty years after its genesis, there's concern about whether this tradition can survive: the bank that funds them is closed down for corruption, and most of the participants are old; a third have already died. The village itself is being sold off, bit by bit, to rich out-of-town tourists who spend two weeks a year there. It's an old story of modernization, globalization, and loss, through the lens of their rehearsals for the annual production. The rhythms of the tiny town of Monticchielo with its 300 plus citizens who have known each other all their lives, the artistic struggles to put this production together, the seasons in Tuscany, one of the most beautiful places on earth - and all through, the cats who stroll through town and sit on stage to watch the procedures - glorious.

Before the show began, something amazing happened. As Ken and I took our seats, someone tapped me on the shoulder. "Ms. Kaplan," she said. "I'm a fan - I read your blog. In fact, I'm here today because you mentioned this film a few days ago, so I decided to take the afternoon off work to see it. You're the curator of my events."

I stood with my mouth open. I've never met this woman, who recognized me from the picture on the website - or perhaps from my new bag, pictured yesterday in the blog and on my shoulder today. She was so kind. "I love your blog, I love your books!" she said. Imagine me, levitating slightly and floating near the ceiling of the Bloor Cinema. Thank you, Linda! What a lift your words gave me. As I've written occasionally, I sometimes wonder why I keep this blog when it takes time, pays nothing, has few readers; my capitalist, business-minded friends think it makes no sense. But today, I was reminded that it makes perfect sense. Even if it matters to only a few people, including my new friend Linda, that's more than enough.

And so - onward.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"Conversations with Friends" by Sally Rooney

For us singletons, Valentine's Day is a non-event, except that at the Y today, Carole was giving out pink chocolate kisses, and my friend Sylvie had a beautiful little heart-covered box for me, with homemade chocolate cake inside. What a sweetheart.

And at the same time, her husband John was here at my house, smashing through walls. What a mess. There was so much dust, the smoke alarms went off twice. It's thrilling, mind you - those walls were built in 1887, so the lath and plaster he extricated are 131 years old. This is just a preliminary exploration; the main work won't begin for months, we have to get permission from the city, which will take forever, and I have mountains and mountains of stuff to get rid of first. Yesterday, I started on the books, piled up scores to put in my Little Free Library, but there are still way, way too many left. Getting rid of books is tough.

Three treats today - it was warm and sunny, just a gorgeous day. I've been looking for a big enough handbag for my travels next month, and Doubletake came through today - a beautiful maroon bag by Ralph Lauren, which will hold many New Yorkers, my main criteria for travel bags. Imagine, someone gave this away.
And I finished a superb novel: "Conversations with Friends," by a very young (born in 1991!) Irish writer, Sally Rooney. Wonderful writing, fabulous dialogue, profound understanding of the complexities of human nature, about fear, love, friendship ... Here's the narrator, Frances, talking with her mother.

I laughed, and she offered her hand to help me up. Her hands were large and sallow, not at all like mine. They were full of the practicality I lacked, and my hand fit into them like something that needed fixing. 

And here she is, falling in love with a married man:

Eventually Nick looked over and I looked back. I felt a key turning hard inside my body, turning so forcefully that I could do nothing to stop it. His lips parted like he was about to say something, but he just inhaled and then seemed to swallow. Neither of us gestured or waved, we just looked at one another, as if we were already having a private conversation that couldn't be overheard. 

It has been a long time since I felt that key turning in my body, but this book brought the feeling back. I loved the book; it's as delicious as a big piece of chocolate cake. 

On another note, however, I left the Y to get the streetcar home, but College Street outside the police station was blocked by a demonstration - First Nations people protesting the Colton Boushie verdict again. The police were there, protecting the protestors. I wondered if my daughter was there with them, but not on a school day, I guess. But today, Trudeau offered a new recognition of indigenous rights, which sounds like a good start.

And - Ontario is going through the horror of uncovering the trail of a serial killer of gay men, Bruce MacArthur. Wayson told me he'd met him a number of times; he was apparently a nice, kind man who helped out at the gay village's community centre. I guess that's where he picked people up. If Wayson had been a more vulnerable man, he might not still be here. Horrifying.

Tonight's present: Samantha Bee.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Eric Clapton

I just happened to check the Olympic medals total - and though I do not care much about the winter Olympics and have seen little of it, still, my jaw dropped: Germany first, Norway second, Canada THIRD, United States FOURTH, France fifth, Sweden sixth.

How is this possible, when we have a tenth the population of the U.S.? Still, there it is. My nationalism surges. Woo hoo! Go Canucks go!

It's still winter here. Much snow and ice. I was going to go to a spectacular documentary called Spettaculo today, and didn't. Hard to get out. It's time for snoring in the cave.

Watched a documentary about Eric Clapton on TV, however - mon dieu, what a life. Through the crazy Sixties, a brilliant young man addicted to black American blues, unusual in England; the tragedy of his obsession with Patti Boyd, who happened to be his best friend George Harrison's wife - how he wrote an entire album for her, including the famous "Layla," and still she did not leave her husband. By the time she did, Clapton was an alcoholic and drug addict, so their time together was misery. And then he got it together, got sober for his beautiful baby son Conor, only to have the boy fall out of a window of a New York high rise and die. The grief is unbearable, only he bears it as he does best, with a hauntingly beautiful song. Finally he emerges, sober and happy with a wife and new family, and a clinic he has established for addicts.

What they make clear is that Clapton was haunted by his past. At the age of 9 or 10, he learned that the woman he thought was his mother was in fact his grandmother; his mother had left the baby behind and gone to Canada. She returns infrequently into his life and does a horrible job, leaving him wounded and angry. Voila - a young man who spends his life making love to a guitar and adoring inaccessible or inappropriate women. Until, at last, he doesn't.

When I saw the Beatles in June 1965 in Paris, the warmup act was the Yardbirds. But Eric Clapton had just a few months before quit. I saw the talentless Jeff Beck and Jimmy Paige instead. LOL.

All this is forefront in my mind because I had a meeting today with fellow Macca lover Lisa Roy at the Miles Nadal JCC. We so enjoyed working together on the powerpoint presentation and talk I did there last November about my great-grandfather that we're doing it again - this time about my life as a Beatlemaniac, in conjunction with my memoir. I am talking there May 24, and there WILL BE MUSIC.

Tomorrow my friend John comes and starts smashing through walls to see what's there. The beginning of the long journey to something new in this house. Going under.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

snowed in

Snow and snow and snow and snow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day ... Sigh. We are snowed in here, more than a foot since yesterday, and it's still coming down. Luckily, I, unlike my daughter, do not have a houseful of sons and nephews and nieces to keep busy in inclement weather. And to top it all, Anna's plan for midday was to take some of them to Nathan Phillips Square, for the protest against the verdict just handed down in the Colten Boushie trial. Boushie, a First Nations youth, a drunk prankster, was shot dead by a farmer whose yard he had entered. The farmer was just found not guilty of murder, and many are very upset, taking this as evidence of systemic racism in Canada. So Anna went off to protest in the snow.

It is a monochrome world out there - white and dark. Very very white with some dark brown, black, green. Mostly, however, white. As usual during these conditions, I think of the pioneers in log cabins in the middle of nowhere. How did they survive the deprivation and isolation? I am feeling very shut off, here in the middle of the metropolis with a furnace, running water, a full fridge, and a million amusements at my disposal, including FIVE library books and an episode of "Call the Midwife" tonight. Who could ask for more? Besides a tiny bit of sunlight, perhaps?

On Thursday I went to the Bloor to see one of a series of lectures on the life and career of Leonard Cohen; my friend Lynn again had been given tickets. The huge theatre was jam packed at 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning. It was fascinating to hear the circumstances around the songs and then to hear the actual songs. For example, he went into Cohen's brief, unfortunate partnership with Phil Spector, which turned his plaintive poetic folksongs into massive pop songs awash with horns and strings. Horrible.

One of Sam's childhood friends, William Di Novi, runs this lecture series there; he spoke beforehand, and it was great to see him for the first time since he was about twelve, when the boys went in separate directions. William called me last year to ask if I could put together a six part lecture series on the Sixties in Paris - or on any other topic. Much as I'd love to - my mouth watered, seeing that packed auditorium - still, I can't think of anything I know well enough to talk about for many hours to thousands of people. Certainly not Paris in the Sixties, since I was only there for a year. If you think of anything, let me know.

Another meeting about the reno - it looks as if I've got a contractor, that is, if he's free in June when I hope we can start. It'll be a massive project, beginning next week when John will smash through some walls to see what's there. So it begins, along with all the dust and mess. The worst part is that I'll have to sort and organize and get rid of a ton of stuff. Though I know I need to do it, it'll take forever, and it'll hurt.

But it'll be summer. No snow. Sunshine. We'll get there.

The library books:
Conversations with Friends, by Sally Rooney - a novel about a fascinating young woman and her relationships. Beautifully written, fabulous dialogue, enjoying it very much.

Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process, by John McPhee, a series of essays by a master non-fiction writer about his process

Thinking about Memoir, by Abigail Thomas: a lovely writer on one of my favourite subjects

Transit, by Rachel Cusk: I have the feeling I won't like this novel but felt I should at least try, as it's getting such buzz

Conversations with Canadians, by Lee Maracle: Lee is speaking at our CCNFC conference, so I want to know what she is writing about.

This plus both big weekend papers, many New Yorkers stacked up and some other mags, and a stack of at least 40 books to get to if I am ever stuck on a desert island. Or snowed in.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

not watching the Super Bowl

My father's cousin Lola, a lifelong New Yorker, is exactly the age he would have been had he lived - 95, 96 later this year. She has shrunk since I visited her last year, after 3 weeks in the hospital last fall, but she's still in her bright studio apartment at 70th and 3rd, albeit now with a succession of live-in African caregivers. "I'm learning so much about Africa!" she says.

"I'm reading such an interesting book," she says. "Have you heard of Christopher Hitchens?" She's reading a book of his essays. Before that, an out of print novel by Pearl Buck, all on her Kobo. She doesn't get out any more, though until recently, she was still going to theatre - at extremely reduced seniors' rates - and art exhibits. And, in fact, she has been to see the Michelangelo exhibit at the Met, in a wheelchair with her daughter. "It was so crowded," she said. "I got discouraged. But," she told me, "I learned to draw when I was young by copying Michelangelo." Mother of 4 children and wife of a businessman, she was also a painter, ceramicist and jewellery-maker; a ring I never take off was made by her.

And then she told me about the time she met Tom Stoppard.

It's too bad so many of my New York relatives do not speak to each other. There are so many feuds, it's hard to keep track. I think that's one reason my father was happy to move to Canada and stay there.

I'd stopped at La Maison Kayser on the way and brought us French sandwiches and treats. And then, I was on my way, hoping to see her again soon. She is a powerful link to my father, "the guy," she said, "who taught me, when we were seven or eight, what 'fuck' means." Of course he did.
Picture taken by Wendy from Burkina Faso.

The trip to the airport was stressful - nearly an hour's wait for a train at Penn Station, in a hall where there is not a single bench or chair, I guess because the many, many New York homeless would camp there - so we all sat on the floor. Finally the train was announced and set off, and then stopped because a bridge ahead was stuck open. "Delay," they said, "not sure how long." Just what a person heading for the airport likes to hear, with no more flights that day. I panicked, of course. Infrastructure in the U.S. is appalling - roads, trains, everything - but of course their fine president is going to fix that. Anyway, we got there and took off. Canada looked even colder than New York.
Home. Room in the bathroom to put things down. A change of clothes. A snowstorm. Though my son who'd stayed a few days here had made everything in the fridge vanish, he'd left me a plate of delicious pasta and 3 fine bottles of wine. Today - the pleasures of the hot tub at the Y, scrubbing off the grime of NYC. And then, across town. I'd bought a little teepee at Flying Tiger. Poor Thomas, it took an engineering degree to assemble it, but he did.
Anna was making chili for the Super Bowl, because she cares about football. Incomprehensible.

It is quiet. I am fuller than before - of the Angel Orensantz Centre and what happened there, of contact with friends and family, three spectacular pieces of theatre, Michelangelo, the fervent buzz of the city. Four days is my limit, but what a fine four they were.

Friday, February 2, 2018

I heart Noo Yawk

Madly, madly in love with this wunnerful town. Sometimes when I come, this metropolis overwhelms, but this time, it's been a treasure trove.

Okay, so where were we? Ah yes, Thursday. Thursday morning was Bloomingdale's, buying black pants on sale. The last three times I've come to New York, I bought Gerard Darel black pants on sale at Bloomingdale's - maybe I have enough pairs now? Can one ever have too many great black pants?

Walked back along Lexington, wondering how all those little stores survive. Like this one, an engraver since 1878 ...
I took it easy because I had the show again that night. My friend Harriet - Dame Harriet Walter now - came for a visit at Cousin Ted's, or, as she said, "tea at the museum." We had a great talk about her life, dashing about making movies - in the next two months, in Savannah, Georgia, Wales, and Northampton, and in between, doing something with an orchestra in Rome. When we talk, I envision what my life would have been if I'd stayed an actress, as she did; we are the same age and were at LAMDA together in 1972. She has an exciting high wire life. Not for me.

And then back down to the Lower East Side. Perhaps you could read between the lines, but anyway, now the truth must out: I was not happy with the show on Tuesday. In fact, I was deeply unhappy. The producer had reduced my great-grandfather's 4 act tragedy to 80 minutes with lots of songs and jokes and mugging; my ancestor was rotating in his grave. My own talk was truncated because I'd been asked to cut it short. I'd brought six books and sold not a one. So I was not looking forward to a recap.

Well - a miracle. It was like night and day. King Lear relaxed, the others in the cast relaxed, I relaxed. The show made more sense, went more slowly, had more charm. It was a big audience, and though a few left, many loved it. And my talk, this time, went really well - I could take my time, tell them more of the story, and it grabbed them, I could feel it. At the end, there was a line of people waiting to buy books - and I didn't have enough! Many interesting people were there, including an old friend, David Mazower, whom I met very early in my research decades ago and had lost touch with. David's great-grandfather was ALSO a famous Yiddish playwright, only he speaks Yiddish and is connected to that world, and way back, he introduced me to some fabulous characters from the Yiddish theatre. And then he vanished back to London, but now, there he was. So we arranged to have lunch today.

People wanted to talk, the cast were lovely, David Serero was charming - the Thursday experience could not have been more different from the one two days earlier. And even - it was supposed to rain, and I got into a cab just as it started and sped home, watching New York flash by in the rain, with the job behind me and all books sold. Heaven.

Today - spectacular. To the Met, to see the Michaelangelo exhibit. The man could do everything - sculpture, painting, architecture ... And oh, how he loved bodies, especially male torsos. He himself was not a handsome man, but he had lots going on, professionally, personally, and it seems sexually, in his very busy and successful life.
 Admiring a little naked statue
Michaelangelo's poem about painting the Sistine Chapel
The actual poem, with doodle - he doodled a lot
His magnificent statue of Brutus
The man himself, with his broken nose. What a life.

I didn't walk across the park afterward as I usually do, it was hideously cold, a vicious wind blasting down those concrete canyons. To my favourite shoe store, Harry's, which sells big sizes and just happened to have a pair of boots in size 10 1/2 at 2/3 off, the last pair after she'd brought out every hideous shoe in my size. The pair I wore there, I'd bought at Harry's with Brucie many years ago; they're falling apart. Now, spiffy black boots to go with my spiffy black pants.

To lunch with David Mazower and his colleague Lisa from the Yiddish Book Centre, where he now works. A long lunch with us gossiping about people dead for many years, our own ancestors and their compatriots. So so much fun - there aren't many people like David who care as much about these stories as I do. He has written an article on my great-grandfather that he'll send me, and there's stuff about his in my book. A literary friendship that goes back a century or so.

I'd planned to go to another museum, but it was too cold, even to stand waiting for a bus - I got a cab back to Ted's and emailed until it was time to go to the theatre. Ted had suggested a Broadway show, but luckily I happened to hear about a recommended show on E. 59th, only two subways stops away. Not having to deal with the loud twinkling chaos of Broadway, especially on a horribly cold Friday night, is always a plus. And it started at 7.15! Perfect.

In fact, it was perfect in every way. "The Undertaking," a play about death, our fear of death, how we avoid it or confront it, what anxiety is and does. This company, called Civilians, does documentary theatre - taking interviews, real voices, and turning them into theatre. Tonight's was a kind of meta-theatre in which the writer, played by an actor, and his collaborator, played by an actress, were preparing a theatre piece about death, and inhabit some of the characters who were interviewed - a woman with cancer who took LSD and ended by actually seeing her fear and getting rid of it; a gay man whose lovers kept dying of HIV and who said, "I'm not crazy about life. I'm not an optimistic person";  a British philosopher who says that philosophy is about how to accept death and discusses Socrates and Plato.

The actors changed voices and characters brilliantly, and what we heard was a conversation between two very honest, clever, creative people trying to figure out the final puzzle of existence, with interjections from interesting others. "Maybe fear of death is fear of life," she says at one point. The anxious man confronts what haunts him - his mother's slow decline from MS, "being left behind" - and opens to life. He sees how beautiful a tree is. The end.

And I, weeping.

Back two stops to Ted's, the subway packed with loud interesting crazy people. And here I am. Tomorrow, visit my father's cousin Lola who's soon 95, and then off to Penn Station, the train to Newark, we do it all in reverse. I am coming home with black pants, black boots, and a glad heart.