Thursday in Paris: Two Exhibits

So: AAC, CPA and I are still in the afterglow of our magical week in Paris. I’ve shared a lot of it with you already, but I wanted to tell you about two exhibits we saw last Thursday – our last day in Paris – which were as different as night and day, but equally valid and important.

You probably already know that, back in the day, the Jeu de Paume housed the impressionists before the Musée D’Orsay was restored over 30 years ago, at which point the art was moved there. Between 1947 and 1986, Jeu de Paume was arguably the most notable museum of impressionist painting in the world. While the D’Orsay restoration was under way, AAC, CPA and I made our first visit to Paris and visited the Jeu de Paume specifically to see the art that was then on display. It was breathtaking. But, once the Musée D’Orsay opened its doors, we never returned to the Jeu de Paume.

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Jeu de Paume at the edge of the Tuileries at the Place de la Concorde

Until last Thursday, that is, when we went to see an exhibition entitled Soulévements (Uprisings). Georges Didi-Huberman, curator of the exhibition, says:

“What makes us rise up? It is forces: mental, physical, and social forces. Through these forces we transform immobility into movement, burden into energy, submission into revolt, renunciation into expansive joy. Uprisings occur as gestures: arms rise up, hearts beat more strongly, bodies unfold, mouths are unbound. Uprisings are never without thoughts, which become sentences: we think, express ourselves, discuss, sing, scribble a message, create a poster, distribute a tract, or write a work of resistance.

” . . . . whenever a wall is erected, there will always be “people arisen” to “jump the wall”, that is, to cross over borders. If only by imagining.”

Presented in five sections: “With Elements (Unleashed)”, “With Gestures (Intense)”, “With Words (Exclaimed”), “With Conflicts (Flared Up”), and “With Desires (Indestructable)”, the exhibit spans over 200 years. It is challenging, provocative, sometimes difficult to view, but, also, inspiring and extremely timely.

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“With Elements”: The Whims, Francisco de Goya, 1799

gestures
“With Gestures”: Anti-Catholic demonstrations in Londerry, Gilles Caron, 1969

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“With Words”: Dada raises everything, Philippe Soupault, 1921

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“With Conflicts”: The Charge, Félix Vallotton, 1893

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“With Desires”: Preparatory Drawing for “The Hope of the Dead Man I, II and III”, Joan Miró, 1973

Unfortunately, the exhibit is ending on January 15th but, if you’re in Paris and want to spend a couple of hours seeing an extraordinary array of images, Soulévements is for you.

CULTURE TIP: Jeu de Paume: Soulèvements

After that extremely intense experience, it was time to hop back onto the Metro and head across town to the Bibliothèque nationale de France to see a fabulous exhibit entitled “Avedon’s France: Old World, New Look”. We’re speaking now of Richard Avedon (1923-2004), one of the most significant and influential photographers of the mid-to-late 20th century.

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Richard Avedon

A prolific artist, Avedon worked in many media but he is, perhaps, best remembered in the United States for his fashion photography, celebrity portraiture and, most especially, for the 1957 film, Funny Face, in which Fred Astaire plays a photographer named Dick Avery (get it?) who plays Pygmalion to Audrey Hepburn’s Galatea.

It’s a marvelous MGM musical (check the film’s credits to see all the creatives from that studio) but which, for contractual reasons, was actually produced by Paramount (which wouldn’t release Hepburn to MGM, so everyone schlepped over to Paramount). Mostly set in Paris, Avedon was the visual consultant and created some sensational images that are as astonishing now as they were 60 years ago. In fact, the first thing you see at the exhibit is a large circular room dedicated to Funny Face.

MOVIE TIP: Funny Face Montage, Photography by Richard Avedon

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AAC, CPA channels Audrey Hepburn in his homage to Avedon

Here are some of Avedon’s remarkable images from Funny Face:

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This image became the logo for the film.

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Suzy Parker in the opening of the film: “Think Pink!”

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Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba, a/k/a Dovima

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Audrey Hepburn with an assist from The Winged Victory of Samothrace

The Avedon exhibit runs through February 26th, and I encourage you to make the trek. You’ll have a great time.

CULTURE TIP: Bibliothèque national de France: Avedon’s France: Old World, New Look

All in all, a day well spent by AAC, CPA and me.

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Carol and A Wee Bit of History

In 1952, Patricia Highsmith (best known as the author of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley) wrote the romance novel, The Price of Salt, under the pseudonym of Claire Morgan. Over 60 years later, director Todd Haynes (Safe, Velvet Goldmine and Far From Heaven) and screenwriter Phyllis Nagy (Mrs. Harris) have adapted the novel into the film Carol, starring the regal Cate Blanchett and the gamine Mara Rooney. Taking place in the early 1950s, at the dawn of the Eisenhower administration and the ensuing conservative era – in which the “norm” was white picket fences, moms and dads with 2.1 children, and Leave It to Beaver – the film never could never have been made back then.

Carol traces the meeting and ensuing relationship between Carol Aird (Blanchett), an upper middle class New Jersey housewife in the midst of getting a divorce from her very whitebread husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler, continuing his move into non-sympathetic characters), and Therese Belivet (Rooney), a younger aspiring photographer relegated to working behind the doll counter at a New York department store.

What interests me about this movie is two-fold.

First, Haynes makes extraordinary films and is a highly disciplined filmmaker. His major release breakthrough film, 2002’s Far From Heaven, faithfully channeled the 1950s films of Douglas Sirk (Magnificent Obsession, Written on the Wind, Imitation of Life), which were at the time referred to as “woman’s films”. In Far From Heaven, Haynes was meticulous in recreating the era in which the film took place. Filmed in exploding autumnal tones, every element of story, performances and production design contributed to the audience’s experience.

In Carol, Haynes has done himself one better. Against a completely different color palette, but with no compromise in period details, the story unfolds as a flashback, and is bookended by a scene that both opens and closes the film. Without giving anything away, the scene as first presented seems like a throwaway. But, when it is repeated at the end of the film – and shot from different angles – the scene takes on much more weight and emotion. It is the cherry on top of a delicious sundae.

Much has been made of the performances of Blanchett and Rooney, both of whom are completely invested in the material and in each of their character’s emotional journeys. Neither of these extremely talented actors holds anything back. There is no winking at the camera; Blanchett and Mara play for keeps and the audience benefits immensely.

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Mara Rooney and Cate Blanchett in Carol

The other point of interest for me is that, as I’ve already said, this film never would have been made in the 1950s. The American zeitgeist at that time simply wasn’t ready to accept or even understand this story. (As Carol says to Therese early in the film, “You’re flung from outer space” – which is how this movie and its lead characters would have been received: as aliens.) Ang Lee’s 2005 masterpiece, Brokeback Mountain, was met with much snickering and discomfort by segments of its audience, proving that even 10 years ago, American audiences weren’t quite ready to accept that film on its own terms. What a difference a decade makes.

Bridging the gap between 1952 and 2015 is the extraordinary pendulum swing in the push for LGBTQ equality. In 1952, almost non-existent and, in 2015, almost – but not quite – ho-hum, due to the astounding achievements by the LGBTQ community and its straight allies. There are many factors contributing to what I believe is the most successful campaign ever for equality in the relatively shortest amount of time.

One “parent” of the movement which began at the exact midpoint between Highsmith’s book and Haynes’ film was the establishment of an organization called glaad. Founded almost exactly 30 years ago at the height of the AIDS crisis (and the unprecedented amount of media scrutiny and homophobia), glaad’s original mission was to work in tandem with the media to insure fair, accurate and inclusive coverage of lesbian and gay stories and reporting in all forms of media. (The BT and Q hadn’t yet been added in 1985.)

I had the privilege and honor of working with glaad almost since its inception and was intimately affiliated with the organization for over 20 years. As a witness to and a participant in its work on a daily level, I was able to see how it was and is possible to change hearts and minds, sometimes one at a time.

The early years were mostly about reactive tactics and were very challenging for the organization. When Bill Buckley wrote that all HIV-positive people should have their backsides tattooed as a warning to unsuspecting sexual partners, glaad turned up on his doorstep to protest. When Bob Hope referred to gays as “fags” on the Johnny Carson show, glaad called him on it and, in response, Hope made a PSA on the Tonight Show set to talk about how harmful pejorative labels can be. Back then, persuading the New York Times to use the word “gay” instead of “homosexual” was, at the time, a major victory. Those were the early years.

glaad’s work continued undiminished and, by building respectful and collegial relationships with large segments of the media, our work became more proactive. Movies and television series began highlighting more and more gay characters and storylines. Print media started telling LGBTQ stories in a more honest and straightforward (no pun intended) way. Again, it was always about fairness, accuracy and inclusion. Because of glaad’s celebrated Media Guide (a kind of road-map on ways in which the media could cover the community, whether in terms of reportage or entertainment), the media in turn would reach out to glaad, knowing that it had a valuable resource.

Then, in the fall of 1998, came the tipping point. A new NBC series premiered on September 21st: it was Will & Grace and it was a sitcom. Considered very risky at the time, it was the I Love Lucy concept, but with a twist: Will was Ricky, but gay; Grace was Lucy, his best friend (but still had red hair). The 2nd bananas (Ethel and Fred, if you will), were Will’s best gay friend, Jack, and Jack’s best gal-pal, wacky and wealthy Karen. The show was an immediate hit: new, fast, funny and totally irreverent.

It also caused a tidal wave in terms of changing the conversation regarding the LGBTQ community. What The Mary Tyler Moore Show did for single, independent women and Julia and The Jeffersons did for African-American families, Will & Grace was now doing the same thing for the gays. Because all of these shows were, first: good entertainment and second: non-threatening, they became accessible to mainstream audiences. These shows became what we called at glaad “water cooler conversation” the day following each episode. It’s what people were talking about.

More significantly, Will & Grace became a flash point for thousands of lesbians and gay men who, through the show, were able to come out their families and friends. I remember at the time the volumes of phone calls and mail glaad received regarding Will & Grace and how sons and daughters were watching the show with their parents and having open and honest discussions about who they were, and thanking glaad for, in some small measure, making it possible.

While I will not claim that glaad was responsible for each and every victory that has been hard-fought and won over the past 30 years – there are many other significant LGBT organizations that worked in other arenas (legal, political and other fronts) – I think it’s fair to say that Carol and Far From Heaven and all the other wonderful LGBTQ stories that have been told are the direct descendants of Will & Grace and, for that, I am extremely grateful and, yes, proud.

But, listen, please feel free to forget the history lesson. Instead, buy yourself a ticket to Carol and be transported to another time and place and revel in what is, arguably, one of the best films of the year. You won’t be sorry.

Here is selection of reviews of Carol:

New Yorker Review

Variety Review

New York Magazine Review

Vulture Review

New York Times Review

 

For more information about glaad, please visit:

glaad

 

Winging Home in Style

Hey, you guys! Originally, this entry was going to be a wrap-up of the vacation that’s just ending, and I’ll get to that shortly.

However, we had a little surprise on the way home today, and I just have to share it with you, if you don’t mind. So we’re flying back on jetBlue and, somehow, our boarding passes got all screwed up and our seat assignments changed before we arrived at the airport. And you know how we are – we like to sit together and all that.

It turns out that there was a last minute equipment change and the replacement equipment is the A321 that normally flies transcontinental and also has what is called “Mint” service, which is their version of business class. It includes flat-bed seats and all that stuff. So, just for fun, I approached the check-in desk at the gate to see if it was possible to exchange our seats for something “up-front”, as they say. Without blinking an eye, the gate agent assigned us 2 seats in the 1st row of Mint. (We later learned that their Mosaic passengers were upgraded automatically.) AAC says we got the switch because I was “properly attired”, something that he hitherto had always admonished me for. HAH!

And here’s our very own AAC CPA getting settled in for the flight home:

AAC Mint

jetBlue Flight 1902; AAC CPA in seat 1A

TRAVEL TIP: jetBlue Mint

So, a few random thoughts about our lovely 10-day vacation:

Fort Lauderdale is not a place that I’d often want to visit, but the Ritz Carlton took amazing care of us. We told them, when we checked out to embark Celebrity Silhouette, that we’d be back early the following Sunday morning. Sure enough, our suite was waiting for us when we arrived back at the hotel at 8:45 AM. It had a large balcony and a lovely ocean view, which I’ve already shared with you.

We had two excellent dinners on our return visit:

Mario’s Catalina Restaurant: Mario, originally from Honduras, is apparently a legend in Fort Lauderdale. His Cuban-Spanish restaurant has been a staple of local dining for eons. They make amazing Mojitos and Sangria, both of which are potent. The portions are HUGE, so we shared the Pork Tamale as an appetizer and the Catalina Combination (Roast Pork, Chicken Chunk, & Mario’s Beef) as the main. Each bite was a sensation; all of the meats are marinated for a very long time and so, so tender and tasty. And the bartender kept coming over and refreshing our Sangria. Mario himself appeared to make sure we were having a good time. 

DINING TIP: Mario’s Catalina Restaurant

On Monday night, we tried another place, Coco Asian Bistro & Bar, another fun place. It features amusing cocktails, small and large plates. We tried their Margaritas (yes, Margaritas at an Asian restaurant!) and shared several appetizers: Thai Beef Salad, Tuna Tataki (seared tuna with a spicy Ponzu sauce), and Chicken Lettuce Wrap and, for the main, la specialtie de maison: Whole red snapper (cubed filet, deep fried tossed with sweet-chilli sauce, reassembled in fish bone and head). It sounds disgusting (AAC CPA almost fainted when it was presented), but it was really delicious. Here are a couple of pix for your delectation:

Coco Apps

Appys at Coco

Coco Snapper

Too scary?

DINING TIP: Coco Asian Bistro & Bar

Because it was raining on Monday, we also had time to see the new film, Spotlight, which recounts the true story of the child abuse coverup by the Catholic Church in Boston and how the story was eventually uncovered by the Boston Globe. An excellent cast, headed by Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schrieber, Bryan d’Arcy James, Michael Keaton and the great Len Cariou as Cardinal Law. A very engrossing and thoughtful, if upsetting, film. It is expected to be a favorite for Oscar consideration.

CULTURE TIPSpotlight

Oh, and have I shared with that we are now totally onboard with Uber? They saved our bacon more than once while we in Fort Lauderdale. No kidding. It turns out that Uber is less than half the price than local cabs and easier to find. We have friends who have been swearing by the service for a long time, and we’ve finally come to the party. Try it out!!

TRAVEL TIP: Uber

Now for a few final thoughts on our cruise aboard Celebrity Silhouette. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the ship is gorgeous, our accommodation was lovely, the food some of the best at sea. But, in the final analysis, we thought it was just not for us. The cruise was a bit frenetic, the ship quite crowded, particularly around the pool areas, the wait for elevators was always too long. I think we prefer a smaller or mid-sized ship experience. It’s interesting, though, because we had a lovely crossing aboard Queen Mary 2 in September and that ship is easily as large as Silhouette, tho’ with a couple hundred fewer passengers. Even though Silhouette is perhaps a better designed ship than QM2, we preferred the latter. Go figure.

I’m actually considering a post that will compare the 3 lines upon which we sailed this year: Celebrity, Crystal, and Cunard. I already have a working title for it: “Sailing the 3 ‘C’s”- get it?

Anyway, our winged chariot will be landing soon at JFK in, so I’ll end here. I’m slightly aghast at having to step on a scale tomorrow morning and assessing the damage that I’ve done to myself. And, wouldn’t you know, I’m scheduled to have my annual physical this coming Friday morning, just as I’ve put on about 30 pounds (well maybe not THAT MUCH.)

I’ll leave you with just a few more images from our trip and I’ll be back in touch with you all real soon.

FTL ChipmunkAAC CPA’s Monday breakfast: doesn’t it look like Alvin the Chipmunk?

AAC Beach View
One last view of the beach this morning

AAC Sad

AAC CPA looking wistful and sad as the end of the vacation approaches

Next stop: London in 19 days!!

Rocco e I Suoi Fratelli

If, like me, you are frequently disappointed by the current crop of films – the endless franchises, sequels, remakes and the playing down to the audience – take heart, because we have other options in our cinematic travails. While there always are and will be new films that are worth our time, there is also a wealth of classic films out there just waiting for us to (re)discover them.

AAC CPA and I have made many such discoveries over the past year, first by supporting the work of Film Forum down on West Houston Street which, in its own words:

“. . . . is committed to presenting an international array of films that treat diverse social, political, historical and cultural realities. Unlike commercial cinemas that primarily “book” high-grossing, Hollywood films, Film Forum’s programs are thoughtfully curated, with attention to unique cinematic qualities, historical importance individually or within a genre and, particularly for documentaries, relevance to today’s world.”

Over the past few months alone, we’ve seen beautifully restored prints of Carol Reed’s The Third Man and Jules Dassin’s Rififi, as well as 20th Century Fox’s The Girl in the Golden Swing (remember that one, starring Joan Collins, Ray Milland and Farley Granger?) and Alain Renais’ Stavisky – all as part of Film Forum’s series on “Crime”.

Just this past weekend, we saw Two Women, for which Sophia Loren received the 1962 Oscar as best actress.

This afternoon, I attended the New York Film Festival to see another restored masterpiece, Luchino Visconti’s 1960 Rocco e I Suoi Fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers). This is the film that catapulted a very young (and impossibly beautiful) Alain Delon, as Rocco, to international stardom.

Rocco Artwork

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Alain Delon in Rocco and His Brothers

In brief, the film takes place in then modern-day Milan and is concerned with a family from the south that emigrates to the north in the hope of establishing a better life for themselves. The film epitomizes the neorealist style, which was inaugurated in 1943 with Visconti’s film, Ossessione.

The new 4K restoration – which is gorgeous, by the way – is especially notable for reinserting 3 sequences which were originally deleted for various reasons, but which are also essential to the story and, with respect to the 3rd restored scene, the denouement of the film. The restored version is stunning to watch, and a testament to the brilliance of cinematography of Giuseppe Rotunno. Fans of Italian film scores will immediately recognize the music of Nino Rota.

The acting mostly holds up very well, notwithstanding some overwrought emotive scenes but, perhaps, that’s the Italian way. It is, however, the kind of film that immediately absorbs you from the first shot of a train arriving in Milan to the last shot of a child skipping and running along a street while a mournful Italian canzone plays in the background. Rocco and His Brothers will get under your skin and will stay with you long after the house lights have come up.

Rocco and His Brothers opens for a 3-week engagement at the Film Forum on Friday, October 9th. I expect that it can be seen nationwide in limited release as well.

CULTURAL TIP: Film Forum/Rocco e I Suoi Fratelli

A Little Taste of Paris Down in Soho

Gentle Readers:

Who knew that I’d be blogging for a 2nd time in the past 12 hours, but I wanted to share our day with you and, also, pivot towards the other two prongs (“PRONGS”???) of this blog: food and art. I hope you won’t mind.

First of all, today presented a bit of a challenge, as it was the housekeeper’s day to be here and, although she doesn’t mind when we’re underfoot, AAC CPA doesn’t care for it at all. Please understand, we have a fabulous housekeeper – Nalini – and she’s been with us for more years that we can count. Nay, AAC just likes to have the place – the entire place, that is – to himself. So he’d rather clear out than share it. The fact that he shares it with me is a minor miracle, in fact.

NOTE: If opera isn’t your thing, please skip to below the CULTURE TIP below. 🙂

So, our first stop today was the Metropolitan Opera, where we’d been invited to a “working rehearsal” of Il Trovatore, with Anna Netrebko and Dimitri Hvorostovsky in the leading roles. We are very fortunate to be able to attend these rehearsals, as I very much enjoy the opera. AAC CPA is a bit more discerning. Yes, it’s true he’s attended something like 6 Ring Cycles over the years, but ask him to attend a mediocre performance of La Boheme and he’ll go right to sleep.

A working rehearsal, unlike a dress rehearsal or regular performance, means that there will be stops, things will be cleaned up, lights will be set and who knows what other mayhem may occur. Sure enough, there were some interesting repeats today. And you should have heard that Anvil Chorus!! And those men who worked the anvils – mamma mia!!!!

Anvil Chorus
See what I mean?

Madame Netrebko was in fabulous voice, even for a working rehearsal. And her core strength must be awesome, as she slowly lowered herself onto one knee as she sang a beautifully shaped phrase without any stress whatsoever on her beautiful voice. Talk about star quality!!

Netrebko
Anna Nebtrebko in Il Trovatore at Salzburg

We were very fortunate to be able to hear Hvorostovsky. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in June and canceled all summer performances so that he could begin immediate treatment. While his vocal cords were unimpaired, he was having severe balance issues, which kept him off the stage. While our sopranos faint, jump off parapets, and often portray the weaker sex, we like our baritones sturdy. As it turns out, he’s been able to appear in the 1st three performances of this run of Trovatore, after which he’ll return to London for further treatment. We send him our best and hope for a complete and permanent recovery.

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Dimitri Hvorostovsky in Il Trovatore at the Met

We will be at his 3rd performance, which is on Saturday afternoon, October 3rd and, if you have any interest at all, you can attend, too. Or, at least you be there as a part of the Met’s Live in HD series. Cinemas all over the world will have a live transmission of this performance, with lots of fun looks backstage during the breaks. Tickets are around $22.00 (whereas you’d probably pay between $230 – $340 for an orchestra seat at the Met). A good deal, I’d say.

CULTURE TIP: Live in HD

We stayed at the Met ’til the first break, in the middle of Act I, Scene iii (Azucena had just admitted that she’d thrown the wrong baby – her own son!!! – into the fire – don’t ask!), and decided it was time to head downtown for a little taste of Paris in Soho. By that, I mean we decided to have lunch on the patio at Laduree. Do you know it or have you, perhaps, eaten or shopped there when you were in Paris? It’s an institution and you really know that you’re in Paris when you enter its doors. Before you can get to the restaurant, though, you have to pass through the patisserie, which just made my mouth water as I typed that word.

The Laduree in Soho has a lovely shaded patio, where we sat and enjoyed a leisurely lunch of club sandwiches. All around us, people were chatting in French and, if you closed your eyes and took a bite of your sandwich, you would swear you were on the Rue de Rivoli or the Champs-Élysées. It was that good. And, in fact, here’s AAC CPA anticipating his lunch:

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Yes, it’s AAC CPA at Laduree

And here’s lunch:

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Laduree Club Sandwich

Let me just say that Laduree didn’t let us down. We had a very civilized meal on their beautiful patio between the Il Trovatore and the next Italian experience we were about to have.

CUISINE TIP: Laduree

After our delightful lunch, it was time to turn our attention to the world of Italian neorealism. Our new favorite movie house in New York, Film Forum, has just started a Vittorio De Sica retrospective, and this afternoon we went to see what is arguably his greatest film, Ladri di Biciclette (Bicycle Thieves). It is a film that we’ve known about for many years, but just saw for the first time today. Almost plotless, it shows the desperate circumstances in which the working class found itself in post-war Italy. A somber and tragic film and yet laced throughout with moments of humor. Check it out here:

CULTURE TIP: Bicycle Thieves at Film Form

And that was our day. When we got back to the apartment, the place was so clean that you could eat off of the floors. That’s no joke – Nalini is that good.

Now begins the task of packing for London and our crossing on Queen Mary 2. We leave for JFK in 36 hours. Tick, tock, everyone!!