Nostalgia for an Indian Summer

I was talking recently to Carmen, one of my closest friends, and I began wondering what it might be like living full time once again in the Burgh.  Judging from my visit last year in October, it would, no doubt, be great fun.

Right off the bat after she picked me up at the airport, we headed to Shadyside for a late supper and nightcap.  It was a Friday night, so the bars were heavily populated by young patrons, the majority of which came from nearby universities like Pitt and Carnegie Mellon.  At one bar, every square inch was virtually occupied that wherever I turned I could easily have found myself on someone’s lap.  Actually, the closest thing to anything of the like was being personally treated to an impromptu Vegas-style dance of the Seven Veils from a girl who obviously was too plastered to know any better.

Raunchy entertainment aside, Carmen and I finally ended the night in the quiet of Pangea, a fusion cuisine restaurant off Walnut Street with a decent wine bar, where she bumped into an old high school friend she hadn’t seen since, well, high school.  During the course of my stay, we went to places “dahntahn” and “uptahn,” starting at Paris 66 for French bistro food, to Bossa Nova, where we crashed an Indian family’s hen party, sewing up the night at the Brillobox for Yuengling beer, DJ music and dancing in Lawrenceville.

The Brillobox in Lawrenceville

It also turned out to be a wondrous Indian summer, with the temperatures in the 80s against the backdrop of falling gold, burnish brown, orange and Rainier cherry-color leaves –I couldn’t have asked for a better, dare I say magical, time to visit.  It goes without saying  Steeler games on Sundays are occasions for parties, and Carmen followed suit, throwing ribs on the barbie in her backyard.

This fall, Carmen and I were planning a trip to New York City so we could celebrate turning 40, but I told her I most likely I won’t be able to make it back to the East Coast, although I am still keeping the door slightly open.  I’m a little bummed, of course, but talking with her and Channa, the woman who does my hair and nails, has eased the disappointment.  No one should underestimate the power of a good haircut, plain old-fashion pampering and the support and affection of an old friendship.

©photos by Rachelle Ayuyang

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A Narrative Point of View

After the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I was reading a New York Times piece called “The Meaningfulness of Lives” about, well, what makes life meaningful.  The author refers to Susan Wolf’s catchy definition when “subjective attraction meets objective attractiveness” that, from what I gather, is doing something important that also feels like it’s worthwhile.

But the point I latched onto most was the whole concept of life having a trajectory, and therefore one’s life is a narrative, and I am the player or actor living it.  It is defined and driven by who I am shaped by experiences and events, from which meaning is derived.  “There are narrative values expressed by human lives that are not reducible to moral values,” Todd May writes.  “Nor are they reducible to happiness; they are not simply matters of subjective feeling.  Narrative values are not felt; they are lived.”

Last weekend I needed something to lift my spirits so I popped in my DVD the 1982 movie “Victor/Victoria,” which always managed to pick me up.  Brightening the viewing experience more was the commentary with its director Blake Edwards and his wife Julie Andrews, who starred in it as well as the Broadway musical version.  Later watching the TV Emmy awards, I realized Blake Edwards had died last year at the age of 88.  Having heard him in conversation with his beloved wife the night before barely a year after his death is even more poignant, especially the moments when he seemed to disappear because he was enjoying simply watching the film, and she would have to pull him back into voice.

Blake Edwards’ checkered life and career seemed to mirror each other, culminating in the movie I was watching last weekend.  While he was known for the Pink Panther movies, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “10,” his last success was the Broadway musical of “Victor/Victoria” in 1995, according to The New York Times upon his passing.  He said in one interview: “My life has been a search for a funny side to that very tough life out there.  I developed a kind eye for scenes that made me laugh to take the pain away.”  He wasn’t perfect, but in my book, his life meets the tests of what makes it meaningful:  Blake Edwards made me laugh and even cry.

Literature and a Movie

One of the joys of surfing through cable TV is hitting upon a channel I normally don’t get access to and seeing a movie I would never think to watch and actually liking it.  That was my experience when I came across “Possession” on Movieplex on a Saturday night.

The 2002 movie is an adaptation of the book of the same name about two literary academics, played by Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart, who go on a serendipitous investigation of the lives of two Victorian poets reverently known for their fealty toward their partners.  Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle portray the bards/star-crossed lovers, whose white-hot relationship is juxtaposed and connected through time with that of the intrepid investigators.

In no small way, the movie re-opened the door to my sophomore high school English class when I was introduced to poetry and ignited more than a passing fancy for language and English literature.   Although I still  open up a book of poetry to refresh my memory and rejuvenate my spirit, it slips my mind more often than not to go back to it, perhaps because it no longer has the power to ground me.  Admittedly, it feels frivolous and antiquarian.  But I should tell myself these aren’t the things that should be stowed away as I get older.  Poetry and literature is still the conduit to our souls just as the other arts continue to speak to the human experience.