Monday, May 02, 2005

Martian Spider Seder

Why is the god of gigs so heartless? Last weekend I got a chance to do “Bernstein Beat” in one of the most spectacular cities in the world, and stay in a hotel room so lavish and well-appointed that it made me jump on the bed for joy on arrival – and I had no time to enjoy any of it.

To get to Vancouver, I first had to catch a plane to Dallas. That gargantuan maw of an airport features a rickety little train that spares you a mile or two of walking from one end of the terminal to another. This is not like the sleek, whispering trains of, say, the Detroit airport. It bumps and swerves along something less track than bobsled run, weaving and lurching up and in and around and under the strange, void interstitial spaces of the airport. It feels like being on a very, very tedious amusement park ride.

On the next plane, I began writing the narration for the new family concert that Michael Barrett and I are developing – this one about Aaron Copland. Mike and I are a bit behind schedule, as we’re premiering the concert at Caramoor at the end of June. On all these planes, I was determined to get through a first draft. I got excited as I came up with an idea for our grand finale: while Michael conducts the Orchestra of St Luke’s in “Hoe-down,” I’ll be the square-dance caller for a “sit-down hoe-down!” (Yes, it’s the “Beef: it’s what’s for dinner” music, also known as the last movement from Copland’s ballet “Rodeo.”) I listened to the irresistible music over and over on my new i-Pod, working out different motions for each section. I must have looked pretty strange to the woman across the aisle as I talked to myself and made my bizarre gesticulations. Had she known what I was up to, she could have correctly interpreted my right hand slapping my left fist as “Encourage yer ketchup!” Or she’d have understood that waving my arm vigorously over my head would accompany my instruction to the Caramoor audience to “Hail yer taxi to the left!”

The time (and the plane) flew as I invented my silly sit-down hoe-down, and when I looked out the window a few hours later, we were descending into an astonishing twilit landscape: the continent was crumbling like a cookie, and the crumbs were drifting into the Pacific Ocean. Somewhere down there, between those hundreds of cookie crumbs and the jagged, snowy mountains behind us, was Vancouver.

Quite the snazzy airport they have up there. The glass and steel-cable architecture echoed the traditional Native American (Inuit? Tlingit?) technology that was exhibited everywhere. They had totem poles, and a longboat suspended in the air, and even a waterfall rippling peaceably over pebbles alongside the escalator!

Then Passport Control sent me to the Immigration Office. All ornament disappeared, leaving a grim institutional blankness -- and a 45 minute wait on line. After 12 hours of traveling. In front of me there were a dozen or so even more exhausted Asian immigrants waiting their turns and requiring translators, which made everything even slower.

When my turn finally came, the official who processed me was a parody of the fresh-faced, friendly squareness depicted so perfectly on SCTV sketches. He was young and tidy and outdoorsy in his plaid shirt and bullet-proof vest. The problem was that I’d written on my landing card that I was working in Canada – and I had no work visa. Who knew?? Not ICM.

I think we had an easier time getting into the People’s Republic of China, when we took “Bernstein Beat” there five years ago.

Ken Hsieh, the conductor, was waiting for me on the other side of the door from Customs. To my delight, he was up for taking me someplace for a bite to eat. It was 1 a.m. NYC time, and I sure was tired -- but all those foodless flights had left me ravenous.

Ken took me to his favorite Japanese place, just a little joint in a strip mall, but when I saw all the Japanese people in there, I knew it was going to be great. Fresh salmon sushi!! So wonderful --after a whole day of hunkering down amid the junk culture – to eat something so fresh and clean and sweet. The sake was great too, and just as keenly appreciated.

Ken turned out to be a really sweet guy: a native of Vancouver, and barely 24. So young! He drove me to my hotel in downtown Vancouver, the Wedgewood. I couldn’t get over my room. Round blue velvet headboard! Tassled curtains framing the bed! A triangular bathtub -- in the bedroom! And a balcony with a cool urban view, and a plate of cookies, and a bar with STOOLS. I was enchanted by the deluxe silliness. I stayed up enjoying it as long as I could, but after an hour of the film “Alexander,” I’d had it. Even if I’d been fresh as a daisy and not been traveling around the clock, I think “Alexander” would have done me in after an hour. I gave myself over to the divine, billion-thread sheets.

My radio went off at 7 a.m. with a male voice barking beautiful, fancy broadcast French into my ear. Hey, I was in a foreign country!

At breakfast in the vaguely French Provincial dining room downstairs, I had real coffee and a couple of croissants straight out of the oven -- neither of them brilliant, but miles and miles beyond the Radissons and Holiday Inns of recent acquaintance.

Off to rehearsal at 9:30. Ken Hsieh may have been young, but he ran a good rehearsal, and the music came together quickly. It had to; the concert was at 2 pm. All went well. I hope everyone at the Vancouver Symphony liked the concert enough to invite me back to do another one, so that next time I could spend more than a paltry 20 hours in such a gorgeous place... As soon as the concert was over, Ken had to drive me back to the airport. It was a sparkling sunny spring day; the Cascades were gleaming at the end of the street, and I couldn’t BELIEVE I had to leave.

At least Ken and I managed to wedge in one more fabulous meal before my departure. On the way to the airport, we stopped at a Malaysian place he knew about, where we had an entire Alaskan king crab smothered in spices. What a heavenly, lip-smacking, labor-intensive, unholy mess! I thought so much of my dad, who would have adored every shred of meat he excavated from that large, Martian spider of a creature – and by meal’s end would have been gloriously smeared from ear to ear in Malaysian crustacean goodness.

On the plane to L.A., I prepared to get back to work on the Copland concert. As I rooted around in my bag – and rooted around some more – and pulled down my wheelie bag and rooted around frantically in there – it became evident to me that I had LEFT MY I-POD IN MY HOTEL ROOM. How could this be: I’m so careful, so thorough, nearly O.C.D. in my punctiliousness! How did this happen??!! I was fairly apoplectic with self-recrimination.

And to think that just the week before, I’d excoriated my son for losing his wallet and Game-Boy... but really, I was no better.

Moms just hate when they’re exposed as regular mortals.

I called the hotel from the plane before we’d left the gate. The housekeeping person was gone for the day; they’d let me know tomorrow. What were the odds of getting my i-Pod back? Now I would put Canada to the test.

On the flight to L.A., I forced myself to work on the Copland script, even without my i-Pod – maybe as punishment for not having my i-Pod.

After landing, I had to take not one but TWO buses through the landing strips of LAX, to get to my other gate. Like a June bug among a herd of cattle, we lumbered amid those impossibly huge planes. “Stop for Aircraft,” suggested a little sign.

At the gate, with the rest of the airport shuttered and slumbering around me, I waited under fierce fluorescent lights for the dreaded “red-eye” back to NYC. It was an hour late, and I was awful, awful, awful tired.

The good news was that I’d used my Aadvantage miles to upgrade myself to Biz Class, where the seats are roomier and stretch out better. I actually slept for decent chunks of time, after which I’d wake up in agony, shift my position, and sleep for another decent chunk.

The other cruel trick of the gig god was to schedule my Vancouver trip on Passover weekend. I didn’t think to check the Jewish calendar a year ago, when I was offered the engagement. I was heartbroken to miss my family seder – the only Jewish holiday I actually get excited about. Still, there was something to be said for a seder consisting of magnificent Alaskan king crab treif. Dayenu.