Friday, September 30, 2005
Friday, September 23, 2005
We went to really nice French restaurant in Times Square for dinner with a representative from our sponsorship board.
Chez Josephine is run by Jean-Claude Baker, French adopted son of African-American Josephine Baker - "the most successful music hall performer ever to take the stage" (according to Ebony magazine). She was the toast of Paris in the 1920s, star of stage and screen in the 1930s, Red Cross volunteer and undercover agent in World War II, participant in the 1963 Civil Rights Movement march on Washington, and star of several farewell (and comeback) tours. She also adopted 12 children of different races and called them her "rainbow tribe." The restaurant is named for her and is essentially a celebration of her.
Mr Baker sat and chatted with us for a bit after our meal, regaling us with interesting little restaurant anecdotes and stories of his adoptive mother. He told us also about how he had set up a foundation to celebrate the work of early 20th Century black artists, in honour of his mother. I was most impressed.
The food was superb and the company delightful. The ambience was lovely, with live piano music in tinkling softly in the background. We even got complementary sorbet at the end (our fourth course!) and it was the best sorbet that I had ever had. Seriously. But then again, my experience of sorbet is hardly exhaustive.
We walked to the 42nd Street metro stop to catch the subway home, happily full of sumptious food.
It was close to midnight.
I saw this black girl in the near-empty station, busking for a dime.
She was playing "If I were a rich man" from Fiddler on the Roof, and the painful irony could not be more obvious.
And so this is New York.
An uneasy mix of extremes, an irresolvable tension, a conflicted existence. There is so much beauty and so much pain, all of it side by side.
To borrow words of Switchfoot, this is the beautiful letdown.
This is life.
But thank God that this is not all that there is to it.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
We went to the opera, l'amie and I. Mon amie (see? I learnt a new permutation! :) geniusly found us $16 student rush tickets, and the seats were decent too.
In Madame Butterfly, east meets west. A callous American lieutenant marries a young Japanese girl (Butterfly), only to leave her. He comes back three years later with his American wife, only to find that he has a child. Madame Butterfly loves him desperately and has been waiting for him all this while. She is shattered when she realises that he has abandoned her. He feels deep remorse but it is now too late. He wishes to take the child back to America to give him a better life. She agrees to let to child go with him. When he comes for the child, she commits ritual suicide.
SHE sat quite still, and waited till night fell. She had a sword in her lap.
Butterfly [softly reading the words inscribed on it]
Death with honour is better than life with dishonour.
[points the knife sideways at her throat]
[The door on the left opens, showing Suzuki's arm pushing the child towards his mother: he runs in with outstretched hands. Butterfly lets the dagger fall, darts toward the baby, and hugs and kisses him almost to suffocation.]
Ador'd, adorèd being,
Fairest flower of beauty.
[taking the child's head in her hands, she draws it to her]
Though you ne'er must know it
Tis for you, my love, for you I'm dying, Poor Butterfly
That you may go away
Beyond the ocean,
Never to feel the torment when you are older,
That your mother forsook you!
[exaltedly] My son, sent to me from Heaven,
Straight from the throne of glory,
Take one last and careful look
At your poor mother's face!
That it's memory may linger
One last look!
Farewell, my dearest heart!
I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. It reminded me also of the ending of Miss Saigon (my favourite musical ever), where the sacrifice of the Vietnamese mother is clearer - her erstwhile lover proposes to support her and the child financially in Vietnam, but she kills herself so that he and his wife have no choice but to take the child back to America, where he will have a better life.
For there is no love greater than this - giving yourself up for another, dying so that those you love, may live.
God is love. - 1 John 4:16
Monday, September 12, 2005
We went on a very enjoyable sunset cruise organised by the university to celebrate the end of the orientation period and the end of the first week of classes. The views from the boat were spectacular. We saw the skyline illuminated in the orange glow of the setting sun, the sky gradually darkening and the city lighting up. It being the day that it is, the twin beams from Ground Zero lit up the sky, reaching so high that they grazed the stars. It was both beautiful and eerie; beautiful for what it was, but eerie for what it represented.
So much of what is beautiful is also oftentimes so very sad. We live in this strange dichotomy, this irreconciliable duality, where the human heart is capable of great love as well as immense cruelty.
You see, I don't think that there's a "them" and an "us". I think there's a "we", and we're all broken, and in our brokenness, we break each other.
Yet we were meant to live for so much more. He who made the sun and the stars, he who breathed blue into the sky and ignited the sunset, formed our hearts, and therein lies the beauty, for we were made in his image. But we have all rejected our first love, turning away from he who made us, and we live lives with no reference to the giver and sustainer of all life. We all go our own selfish way, and this is how we break.
But there is a light in the darkness for we were not, and we are not, left alone.
The opposite of love isn't hate - it's apathy. And he who made us loved us enough to come down to earth to be amidst us, to seek and to save, to mend and to make new, to bring beauty out of brokenness, to turn darkness into light.