Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Trip to the Set of Ugly Betty

Darlings, we're just back from Queens, New York, where we had a very entertaining adventure visiting the set of Ugly Betty! TD bought the tour at an art auction, and I got to go along.

We boarded the F train for the Silvercup Studios in Queens. Whilst we were cooling our heels in the lobby waiting for our host, we saw Alec Baldwin walk by from 30 Rock! That's one of our other favorite shows. Then we realized we were in the wrong studio, and meant to be at Silvercup Studios East. A quick cab ride fixed that.

We've been big fans for years of Ugly Betty, about Betty Suarez, an outsider from Queens who works at a fashion magazine. The clothes, the sets, the colors are all dazzling – it's almost like watching a cartoon. The characters are wonderful, and America Ferrera, who plays Betty, is perfectly cast as an innocent, well-meaning, kind of dorky magazine editor.

Unfortunately, and you probably know this, ABC canceled Ugly Betty the day before yesterday. ABC has slowly killed the show by moving it all around the schedule (currently on Wednesday night at 10:00) and not promoting at all. The show has won Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG and Peabody awards, but ABC has allowed it to die on the vine. It's a bit of a mystery. And we'll miss it because it's jolly fun entertainment.

But we were still looking forward to our tour. Our host was Ali, an assistant on the staff and she couldn't have been nicer. She brought us through the wardrobe department which was vast. Rooms of clothes and shoes and jewelry. Each star gets a rack of clothes.
Here is Betty's rack:

It's been fun to watch the Betty character change over the years. She has lost some weight and her braces and her big bushy eye brows; she has grown into her job at Mode.
This is Amanda's rack:

And this is the rack for guest star...wait for it...Liza Minnelli! Can't wait for that.

We walked through the set of the Mode magazine offices. It was strange to be on the completely empty set which we usually see bustling with "staffers."

TD relaxes in Wilhelmina Slater's office on her chaise. Silly goose.

The long hallway/tunnel at Mode.

Here is TD sitting at Betty's desk.

Welcome to Mode.

This is the set of the Suarez family home in Jackson Heights where Betty's father, sister Hilda, and her son Justin live. Betty's father came to the United States from Mexico but had problems with immigration, and was going to be deported until a bribe solved that problem (see my post below).

On the third set, the cast was actually filming a scene. And I'm not going to give away any plot secrets here. We stood in a room next to the small room where the scene was filmed and heard it and watched in on a moniter. When they were done with a shoot, the cast came in to the small room where we were to sit and relax in those tall chairs that have their names on them. Since they were working we couldn't interrupt them but it was fun to rub elbows with the stars. Ana Ortiz, who plays Betty's sister Hilda and actually is pregnant, was on her cellphone and she does not have that strong Hispanic accent – Ok, I get it, she's an actress! Mark Indelicato, who plays Justin, said, "I started a blog last night with three posts." It had the word "Marked" in the title, but I can't find it. (Update: this is his blog – Marked Territory.)
Here we are with Ugly Betty

who isn't so ugly any more.
We'll miss you Betty.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Freedom is a Beautiful Thing

Me, Jean Montrevil and TD (Photo by Clover Vail)

Some of our friends know some of this story. At our great church Judson Memorial on Washington Square Park we became friends with Jean Montrevil, a good and happy man, and his wife and four children. Jean is an immigrant from Haiti and was a legal resident in these United States at age 21 when he was convicted of a drug crime in 1990 for which he went to jail for eleven years. After that, on a blind date, he met his wife Janay, a Brooklyn native. They were married and had three children and Jean had a van driving business.

But. A law was passed under which it became possible to deport noncitizens who have a criminal conviction and so Jean has been dogged with this sword over his head ever since. With the constant threat of deportation, he was required to check in regularly with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, called ICE – how is that for an acronym. He had to wear an ankle bracelet for awhile. For three years Judson members accompanied Jean on his weekly check-ins. And all these many years later, on December 30th, one day before New Year's Eve, ICE decided to deport Jean at his check-in, and he was taken away.

He was transferred to a detention center in York, Pennsylvania, and the church got very active on his behalf, writing and emailing officials, contacting the press, and holding rallies downtown at the immigration office. Because, honestly, how much sense does it make to deport a valued member of society and permanently separate a man from his wife and children? And surely our government has better ways to spend our tax dollars besides harassing people. We've all made mistakes in life; you pay for your mistakes and move on.

We found out later that Jean was to be deported quite quickly after he was detained. A flight was arranged to carry him and others to Haiti. Jean was very concerned about one other detainee who was sick. He said to the nurse, "You can't take him to Haiti now because he will not get any medical attention there." The nurse took the man's temperature at Jean's insistence. He was too sick to travel and the flight to Haiti was canceled.

Then, the earthquake in Haiti. If Jean had been deported as planned he probably would have died there as the jail in Port-au-Prince was destroyed.

Weeks passed as he detained in Pennsylvania, unlawfully it seemed to us. The government announced it would not deport anyone to Haiti due to the disaster there. Now what? One day Jean was told he would be freed, and to wait in a special area. He waited for seven hours. Then he was told the transport FORGOT to come pick him up. Then he was put in REGULAR JAIL which was even worse. At this point we felt he was being punished for the work that we were doing on his behalf because we were getting the story out.

Last week two friends drove three hours to York, Pennsylvania to visit Jean. Only one could see him. Why? Because the other friend was not on his list of eight visitors, and he could only change his list of visitors ONCE EVERY FOURTEEN DAYS, not including weekends and holidays.

Last we heard, he could be in jail for 90 days.

Then, this: this Saturday, after being imprisoned for 25 days, Jean was put, still handcuffed, into a car, and driven to New York City with no explanation. They dropped him off on Varick Street and told him he was freed. He had no coat because he had given it to another detainee, and he had to stop someone on the street to ask to use their cellphone so he could call his wife. Then he walked over to the church to find the minister.

This is not how we should be treating human beings in this country.

The good news is that Jean is free for now and joyfully reunited with his family. And it was a kind of a miracle because 26 Haitians remain in the York County Prison who were not released. Jean still has to report for check-ins and who knows what will happen? Will he be taken away again? There are thousands of other people in the same situation. The laws need to change. I have to say, this story has been an eye-popping experience for me on racism in this country, and it has stunned me at every turn. I'm sure if I was an immigrant from Ireland, as my great grandfather Dan O'Donnell was, and I made a mistake like Jean did, I would not be dogged like this for all these years.

Jean said there are more people being deported now under Obama than before.
It's not right.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Pleasure of the Rose

I love white roses and it's so easy to go to the deli at the corner and get a bunch and separate them into small vases. The one above went into a little handpainted vase I bought at Anthropologie on sale for $7.99.
A rose can hang on the wall

or stand on a table

or go on a desk. During the week they open up

and are different every day. Also they look different in the day in natural light

and at nighttime.

Light goes through the pale petals, like thin paper, which can take on a creamy blush. The unfolding buds are a joy to look at all week long.

And that's the pleasure of the rose.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Young Victoria

TD and I toddled up to 23rd Street to see The Young Victoria, the new movie starring Emily Blunt about the early life of Queen Victoria of England. I have to say, it was a good story which I will try to explain in "American." Victoria was born in 1819 and her grandfather was King George III. Her father, the Duke of Kent died in 1820. As such she became heiress presumptive after the death in 1830 of her uncle King George IV. Then her uncle King William IV came to reign. A Regent was appointed should the King die and Victoria ascend to the throne before she turned 18. The Regent was her mother, who was controlled by a secretary, Sir John Conroy. The pair raised Victoria in near isolation in order to dominate her and make her completely dependent upon them.
So then, how would the young Victoria break free and find her own independence?

We all know that Victoria did just fine. The Queen went on to hold the longest reign in English history, for 63 years, from 1837 at age eighteen until her death in 1901. The period became known as the Victorian era, a time of great industrial, political and scientific progress within the United Kingdom. Her reign was marked by the incredible expansion of the British Empire, and England was the most powerful nation in the world.

Queen Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great of Russia, Queen Victoria: stories of powerful female monarchs are fascinating. These girls grew up dominated in a man's world but overcame it through inner genius.

In Victoria's case, she had help and support from her spouse, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coberg and Gotha. They had a happy and healthy marriage, and nine children to prove it. This movie really is a love story. Emily Blunt, who stole the show as a mean fashion girl in The Devil Wears Prada, does a wonderful job here playing Victoria. A quiver of her lips or wide eyes reveals what she is feeling inside. Prince Albert is played by Rupert Friend. You may remember him as the devious Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice:

That movie, which starred Keira Knightley, is one of my favorite pictures of all time. Rupert Friend and Keira Knightley met on that movie, and are now a couple:

Also in The Young Victoria is the handsome British actor Paul Bettany playing Lord Melbourne, who also tried to control Queen Victoria but proved to be her friend in the end.

You know Paul Bettany – he is married to the gorgeous actress Jennifer Connelly. They bought a limestone mansion in Brooklyn for their family but recently moved to a loft in Tribeca. The couple will soon star together in the upcoming movie Darwin. Paul Bettany also played Russell Crowe's sidekick in Master and Commander, a good movie if you haven't seen it.

These Brits are so good looking – and I mean the men and the women. I think it's the English accent which makes them more beautiful.

Victoria and Albert went on to rule for many years. Besides bearing the future royals of England, their off-spring included Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia. Sadly, Prince Albert died in 1861 of typhoid fever. Victoria lived for forty more years without him. After the movie, TD reminded me that we had seen Mrs. Brown, the movie starring Dame Judy Dench as an older Queen Victoria, about an alleged secret romance or even secret marriage to John Brown, her Scottish manservant.

But, by all accounts Victoria did mourn the loss of Albert for years. When the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted a costume exhibition on fashion in the age of Victoria, I wrote a small piece about it for Vanity Fair. I visited the show's curator Caroline Goldthorpe who told me that after Albert died, Victoria wore only black for forty years. "But, then," she said, "Victoria had fabulous black."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Trip to the Met

Last week TD and I went to the Metropolitan Opera with our friends Brian and Jonathan. We saw Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss. Dear reader, it was four and a half hours long. We got there at 7:30 and got out at midnight. Two intermissions offered the chance to stretch and circulate. That's a lot of opera, and I'm not an opera expert, but it was beautiful.

Der Rosenkavalier (The Rose Cavalier) was written by the German composer Richard Strauss in 1910. Set in Vienna in the 1740s, it's a comedy of errors and involves a lot of masquerading and false identities. Honestly I didn't follow all the twists in turns in plot even though the subtitles are elegantly displayed on the back of the seat in front of you.

The confusion for me started when the curtain went up and the fantastic Renee Fleming as the princess Marschallin was in bed with her young lover - a woman - played by Susan Graham. A lesbian love affair! But no. Strauss dictated that the much younger male lover be played by a female for the sake of the mezzo-soprano voice. Ok!

The Metropolitan Opera House holds almost 4,000 people. We were sitting at the tippy top of the house, in the family circle. $22 seats. There were elderly people climbing up very steep steps to get to their seats. I had said to TD, "Will we be able to see?" He said, "You can listen to the music." The acoustics were clear as a bell. That was astounding. And the music was heavenly.

The production was an eyeful too. Pictured here is the second act. The set featured a white and black marble floor and tall paned glass doors which swung open. White wigs, pale costumes – kind of a Viennese dream.

I'm interested in learning more about opera because it's a living work of art history. It's like a Henry James novel or a Sargent painting, but it moves and breathes in front of your eyes. This opera first premiered in Dresden in 1911; I wonder what Dresden was like in 1911. In 1913, this opera debuted at the Met in New York. At that time, the Metropolitan Opera House was located at Broadway and 39th Street. Edith Wharton writes about going to the opera there in The Age of Innocence.

In the last act of Der Rosenkavalier, Renee Fleming regally entered in a fantastic silvery gown. She floated around the stage, and she and the two other female leads, Susan Graham and Christine Schafer, sang the beautiful famous final trio, a gorgeous blend of female voices for which this opera is renowned. The last twenty minutes were breathtaking. Then it was midnight. Almost 4,000 New Yorkers flooded down the stairs and out into the bitter cold of the Lincoln Center plaza, into cabs, buses and subways, home to bed with glittering visions of eighteenth century Vienna dancing in their heads.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mexico, Redux

I was considering how to update the blog this week and I thought I really was not ready to move on from Mexico because it was so warm and wonderful. New York is cold and grey now and Con Edison is noisily tearing up the street outside (again) so I want to linger a little longer in vacation mode. Hopefully you will like it too and enjoy a reprieve from the cold.
Here is Karen taking in the view of Banderas Bay.

There was bougainvillea everywhere; I love bougainvillea because it means I'm in a tropical climate.

On the catamaran boat ride little Ben paused to take a picture.

Swimming off of the boat at sunset.

One day we stopped at a craft market on the side of the road. The waves of the sea crashed below.

Some of the group rented jet skis down the coast. At the pool we looked up to see them rounding the rocky point and jetting toward the house. It was very James Bond.

On New Year's Eve: Jane, Tracy, Mom.

I loved the view standing in the pool and looking out at the bay.

Adios Mexico, until next time.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy New Year from Mexico

TD and I are back from a fantastic trip to Mexico. To celebrate his birthday, my brother Thom and his wife Karen and sons Brian and Aaron took a big house in Puerto Vallarta and invited the family to join them! There were fourteen of us, including my parents, sister Cynthia and her partner Barb, and brother Eric with his wife Tracy and children Jane and Ben. It was Thom's birthday, but we got the gift.

The house, which included a staff, was built dramatically on a cliff overlooking the sea. This is the view upon arrival.

Then the visitor goes down, down, down, to the main living area and pool. The bedrooms were layered one upon the other, looking up

and looking down to the water.

An infinity pool was set over Banderas bay.

A tree at the pool decorated with Christmas ornaments reminded us that it was the holidays.

The waves crashed below. TD and I had the bedroom closest to the water. This was the view. It was spectacular to wake up to.

Everyone enjoyed swimming in the pool

and hanging out next to it all day long.

Here is my pool side table with all the necessary accoutrements, no?

Eric, at rest.

Every night we had dinner at a big table set for fourteen. The food prepared for us was delicious.

The house was a marvel; TD and I were grateful to be guests there.

One day we took a sunset cruise on a catamaran along the coastline of Puerto Vallarta. The crew pointed out different highlights along the way. In 1963 Hollywood director John Huston filmed Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana in Puerto Vallarta. That movie's leading man, Richard Burton, first brought Puerto Vallarta to the world's attention when he and his new wife, Elizabeth Taylor, who was just divorced from Eddie Fisher, bought a mansion in town.

The catamoran set anchor so swimmers could dive in for a dip.

Then we boated all the way up to the rocky islands visible from our house.

It was a great pleasure to be on the water for a long boat ride. (Eric, Karen and Jane)

The next day we went to a nearby beach. There was baseball

and football.

Mom, at rest.

One day TD and I and Cyn and Barb went to the gay beach in town – I'm telling you, Puerto Vallarta has it all! It's a popular gay destination, and the renowned gay Blue Chairs Hotel has a crowded and cacophonous beach in front of it. It got packed, shoulder to shoulder, with loud music blasting from the speakers. We ordered fish sandwiches and beers from the waiter. It was like a nightclub/beach.

Back at the house, everything was peaceful and quiet.

Dad, at rest.

On New Year's Eve, we celebrated Thom's birthday and the coming year. The dining room was decorated with a red silk table cloth and streamers from the chandelier. Since we're Irish, there were funny stories and teary toasts to Thom.
Before midnight we climbed to a higher level to see fireworks along the bay.

Sparkling and colorful, it was a magical way to ring in the new year.
Later, the girls: Karen, Cynthia, Barb and Tracy,

and Jane, me and Aaron.

It was hard to leave, I'll tell you that. Hot, sunny weather plus luxe living plus my family all around is a triple header for me. We're lucky – we like each other and enjoy being together. Ted and I both needed a vacation, and Thom provided us with the greatest week. Before we left a friend said to me, "It's like your brother is giving you a group hug." And it was a warm wonderful hug.

Many thanks.

Go to Mexico, part two