Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hanging in the States

It was great being back in New York. Although Manhattan’s neighborhoods are lined with the same chain stores found in suburban malls—something we never would have predicted in the 70s—and artists with marginal incomes can no longer afford to live in the City, the Big Apple is still vibrant. But I miss the old Manhattan—miss the multitude of shops where up-and-coming designers sold their wares, miss the thriving off-off Broadway scene that included several Black theatres, where you could watch a play like For Colored Girls' development from the bars to Broadway. But it’s still an exciting place to be, if you have money. We didn’t have to have big bucks to enjoy it when I moved there.

Theatre is where I worship and seeing Fela was a spiritual rejuvenation—it is the most exciting piece of theatre I’ve seen in more than 20 years. Although I didn’t see Memphis, I was shocked when Fela didn’t get any of the top 4 musical awards—Best Musical, Director, Actor, or Actress. And my friends who’d seen both thought that although Memphis was brilliantly executed, it was pretty standard Broadway musical fare. But Fela was innovative—it felt authentic, made the audience believe they were at the Shrine, experiencing Fela’s final performance at his club in Lagos. Bill T. Jones’ direction completely suspended the fourth wall. The other show I saw, Race, was disappointing. Mamet didn’t nail the Black perspective on race. And Terry Washington, who I love on screen, didn’t excite me on stage. But, James Spader’s was fabulous, his performance was worth the price of the ticket.

I got to see many of my old friends, OD on seafood—Spice Market, in the meatpacking district, and Flex Mussels, on the upper eastside, were my restaurant favorites—and Bianca, my adopted kid who I hadn’t seen in almost two years, came down from Buffalo.

Before heading south to Atlanta for a couple of days, I took the train to Baltimore and spent a day at the hospital, visiting with my friend who is battling cancer. I didn’t hang out in Atlanta but spent my time there laughing and talking with mama’s girl friends. These were friendships that endured for a lifetime—women that she met at her first teaching job at Turner High School in the early 50s. All of them worked. Most also had families and, as their children got older and they could spend more time outside their homes, moved out of the classroom into careers in education. They’re not as spry as they used to be and in varying stages of forgetfulness but they’re still dynamic. These are the women who served as my role models when I was growing up, the women who taught me not to accept the limitations of racism and sexism; that my place was anyplace I wanted to explore. When I headed back to San Miguel I was sorry that I hadn’t planned to stay in the States for another week.

As much as I enjoyed being back in New York, I no longer want to live there. My quality of life is so much better here in San Miguel but next time I’ll plan a longer visit. Spend a few days in Atlanta, then head for New York. Although it’s hot and humid as hell in the City during the summer, I think I’ll try and figure out how to spend a couple of weeks there next year in late June, early July. With the online discount theatre tickets, I should be able to see a couple of plays and experience the beginning of the summer music scene. That part of New York hasn’t changed, there’s still great free music almost every night after the 4th of July. Maybe also spend a few days in Baltimore, check out Artscape and OD on crabs.