We arrived in Albany in the dark, so we didn’t see the lovely lake that our Air BnB cottage was on. Our first of daily visits to Connie’s mom went well. In the ensuing days, we had two 95th birthday parties for her. She was very excited by the appearance of her surprise “guests from afar”: friends from Waynesboro VA plus niece Margo and nephew Larry (with family) from the Baltimore MD area. On Thursday, there was a Flag Day celebration at the nursing home with an indoor barbecue lunch and as much jollity as nursing home residents can muster. Kingsway Arms is really an excellent place. The staff is wall trained, attentive and always “perky”. Mom is a bit fixated on the fact that she’s not allowed to wander on her own. She definitely sees it as a loss of freedom (which it is). Driving back and forth (30-45 minutes each way) was a bit of a challenge for us, but our rental car (a brand new Kia Rio) was up to the task.
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Mom’s actual birthday party on June 12 was at the nursing home. The larger party on a different lake on the following Saturday was “the icing on the cake”. Brower Camp is a lovely cottage on a large reservoir (Great Sacandaga). Mom expressed her appreciation and joy many times for both events! Bob, Cindy, Cindy’s parents & her boyfriend, Jason & Schuyler were also there, along with Angela (whose birthday is the day after Gramma’s). We had a LOT of food left over, but much of it got distributed, and we’ll also take some to our NJ hosts. It was a busy week – Connie is very relieved and deserves a lot of praise for her superb preparations. (And she says, “Bruce did a lot, too!”)
The second leg of our journey was focused on New York City and New Haven (via Connie’s birthplace near Ramsey, New Jersey) Thanks to our Homelink connections, we were lucky enough to have 5 nights of hosting by a generous couple in Jersey City, a half hour train ride from mid-town Manhattan. Selva and Irene are a delightful couple from Argentina and Venezuela respectively who made our stay most comfortable and enjoyable.
On Monday, we went to the Whitney Museum to see some wonderfully intriguing American Art:
Just outside the Museum was the beginning of the Chelsea Highline, which is a re-creation of an elevated railway into a linear garden which goes all the way up to 30th St., a really wonderful oasis in a crowded city.
Since the temperature was 95 degrees, we took it very slowly, and after a lunch in Chelsea Market, we made our way to pier 62 and a boarded a beautiful 78 ft. schooner for a 2 hour sail around New York Harbour. We were under full sail for about an hour and a half and went out to the Statue of Liberty and back. With free drinks on board, it was a great way to end a beautiful day.
The heat continued on Tuesday, and since we’d gone through such a busy week, we decided to stay in our air-conditioned flat and get caught up, just going out for dinner in Jersey City.
Wednesday was our long planned trip to “the Source”, Yale University and New Haven Connecticut. We started our visit by meeting a woman from the Chaplain’s office who was kind enough to let us into the chapel at the base of Harkness Tower to revisit the site of our wedding in April of 1970. It’s now a Buddhist center, but it retained the shape and feel that meant so much to us at the time. It’s hard to believe we somehow squeezed 50 people into it.
On the way to our next stop, we were delighted to see a water feature called “Water Table” created by Maya Lin, who created the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. The dedication reads: “1969 Women admitted to Yale College – The Women’s Table was built through the generosity of Alumni and Friends. Maya Lin 1993”. This was profoundly moving for both of us, since we were both involved in this historic year of women at Yale. I had conducted the first Yale Women’s Chorus and Connie sang in it. It also made up for the disappointment of finding no mention of our historical addition to the Yale choral scene in any of the mementos in the Yale Glee Club room.
Our next stop was Hendrie Hall, the home of the Yale Glee Club and where Connie and I spent much time together in the few short months before we were married. It has been beautifully renovated thanks to the generosity of Joe Rossi’s family. Joe was our tour doctor on the ’68 South America Tour. We visited 14 countries, 46 concerts in 46 days, most of which had their governments overthrown in the subsequent decade (not our fault!). I think we probably exhausted the continental supply of Kaopectate that summer. But I digress! Hendrie Hall contained my rehearsal room, office and teaching studio. I only had one student (Connie), and she was definitely the one I was looking for, although in the next fifty years I’ve been more the student.
As we left Hendrie Hall, we encountered a immigration demonstration at a church on The Green where we had spent several of our early dates demonstrating with the crowds against the Vietnam War. (Full circle).
As we had done several times in the intervening years, we drove by our respective 1970 residences (a few blocks apart) and also Fenno and Carol Heath’s house where we met at a party in the Fall of 1969. Fenno was Conductor of the Yale Glee Club and Carol was a Kodaly teacher colleague of Connie’s in New Haven schools.
Our last (obligatory) stop was Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria (formerly “The Spot”), where we got a giant pizza which we enjoyed for the rest of the day and the next morning.
On the way home, we visited my Unitarian church (where I conducted the choir 1969/70) and the Arbeiter Maenner Chor clubhouse (a choir which I conducted from 1966-1668 – the one that rehearsed in their beerhall). We also stopped by the rented summer cottage in nearby Woodmont (vastly renovated) that my first wife Linda and I lived in when we first arrived at Yale in 1966. I went for a swim in the lovely waters of Long Island Sound.
On our last day in New York, we took a long subway ride out to Flatbush, Brooklyn to visit the apartment building that Connie’s dad spent his early years in. A few days earlier, we had also stopped at his boyhood home in Ramsey, NJ, which was the house that Connie’s mom lived in when Connie was born. We then “subwayed” back to mid-town Manhattan to have the ritual cheesecake near Times Square and take the astounding step (for me) of seeing “Phantom of the Opera” in the Majestic Theatre. See review beneath the photos.
A Phantom of an Opera (big on form, not so big on substance)
In 1990 on tour with the Chamber Singers to California, one of my sopranos was complaining about Disneyland, saying that she would not under any circumstances go. The day after the entire choir went to Disneyland (including her), I teased her about the fact that she went. Her response was, “sometimes I can be a real tightass”.
This is the way I felt after seeing “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway in NYC. I have long harboured a dislike of “serious” musical theater. I have loved Rogers and Hammerstein, Lerner & Lowe, and the like, and in fact have performed in that genre.
I simply wasn’t prepared for the impact, however, of a Broadway show which has all of the accoutrements of opera, presented in a fully professional manner like this. Although I have seen many operas, I have rarely been so aware of the true meaning of the term Gesamptkunstwerk – all components of opera conspiring to make an artistic whole. I’m not a student of acting, lighting, stagecraft, or dance (or even of special effects), but I am a student of music (singing and composition) and the singing was superb, certainly on a level with the other components. However, I find Andrew Lloyd Webber’s settings were sometimes lacking. There are simply too many musical styles in this opera. There are certainly some pretty, if overly repetitive, melodies, and some overly dramatic (even for opera) scenes. I found greatest fault with the pseudo a-tonality of the “opera within an opera” written by the Phantom. It didn’t make a great deal of music sense and achieved more chaos than tension. If it was supposed to reflect what a terrible composer the Phantom was, it certainly succeeded.
The whole production was larger than life (and honestly so) and the ending held me in an emotional grip which I’ve rarely experienced. Quite frankly, “I lost it” and I’m not ashamed!
The last weekend of our trip was spent with Connie’s cousins Larry and Kimberley Meyer in Salisbury Maryland, “friends across the continent” for many years. On Saturday we drove an hour and a half further south down the Delmarva Peninsula to Onancock, Virginia for the annual Ward/Gibb reunion.
Connie’s mom was born in nearby Machipongo. The history of the family in this area goes back to 1650. Connie’s grandmother was a Ward and Grandfather a Gibb. They were farmers for many generations, who worked very hard after the depression and the war to leave the “Eastern Shore” and finally succeeded when they all moved to the Baltimore area in the mid-century.
The reunion was charming and warm and loving as you would expect from such a gathering. There was also a sense (as in my Vancouver family) the reunion idea was dying out with the passing of the older generation. Of course the food was great, lot’s of fried chicken, collard greens and corn pudding and the talk was happy and enthusiastic, but sadly (in my opinion) lacking in the boisterous back and forth about political issues which happens from time to time in my family.
It was a wonderful way to end our East Coast Odyssey and mostly our trip down “memory lane”
We spent our last day with Kimberly and Larry going down to their cottage on Deal Island. Larry is an avid hunter and fisherman and has the most amazing equipment and property to that end. On the way, we drove by 40 acres of forest that Larry bought many years ago to hunt on. For several years they lived in the Deal Island house before Kimberley got her job as assistant to the Provost at the University of Salisbury.