Yes, it was a drag to face horrific traffic back to Manhattan Wednesday from upstate New York where the damage from Hurricane Irene was felt with much more impact than here in the Big Apple.
And it's even more of a drag if you are living in--or visiting and unable to leave--Vermont where the effects of Irene are devastating entire towns, some of which have not yet been reached by rescue crews.
So why be optimistic? Many reasons..
One of them is the stories coming from Vermont where people in towns that have been walloped by Irene are organizing themselves to deal with the tragedy, sharing food, water, medical supplies and, yes, humor. One town held a barbecue. The fellow who organized it says his restaurant was pretty much spared so since he's got the food, why not share it with those who were not so lucky? So he fixed the hamburgers and hot dogs and everyone showed up..
And then there is the story on Anderson Cooper's show today of the wedding in Pittsfield, Vermont last weekend. That town has still not been reached by rescue crews and the gutted roads make it impossible to leave. The groom explains that his New Yorker guests were thanking him on Saturday for making it possible for them to leave endangered Manhattan for bucolic Vermont, where they would surely be safe from Irene. Things didn't quite work out that way, as we know. The wedding was held on a gorgeous late summer Saturday but by noon Sunday things took a turn and there was no getting out of town. So the town and all sixty of the wedding guests have banded together to make sure that elderly people without water are being visited in their homes and provided what they need, and to organize the rationing of the food, water and medical supplies that everyone now has to share, lest some go without.
And I found reason to be inspired right here back in my New York office yesterday. My company is in a shared office space which means there are a number of different business tenants in this building. On our eighth floor there are people who do video and audio work for commercial clients. One has an office next to mine and I occasionally hear their voice-over work or musical pieces they are playing repeatedly to get just right for inclusion in some clip they're doing for hire.
Yesterday, my first day back from the storm ordeal in upstate New York, was different. Mid morning, I was transported by music coming from next door. I stopped typing, ignored my phone, put my head back on my chair, and listened. Listening actively took me to a beautiful place, thanks to the extraordinary music of Itzhak Perlman. The group next door, Ventana Productions, is cutting a profile piece for PBS's "My Generation" show. This particular piece is about Itzhak Perlman's music camp for budding young musicians, called the Perlman Music Program. And the piece they were incorporating into their profile was Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, opus 64.
It made my day.
I was sorry when they stopped playing it, and got up to thank them. When I learned from Dan Melius, the freelancer for Ventana who is putting the piece together, that the musician was Perlman, I told him a story I had forgotten about, but resurrected on hearing Itzhak's name. When my kids were small, my husband and I took them to Israel over Christmas and flew from there to Paris for the week between Christmas and New Years. There were only a few people on the flight and among them was, yes, Itzhak Perlman. He loved my kids and was fascinated by the video game they were playing and began to play it with them. That exchange was a couple of hours, with amazing conversation in between. Our family has never forgotten the experience. We feel we "own" Itzhak Perlman in our own special way.
So there Perlman was yesterday, bringing his magic to my office--thanks to Dan Melius. Hurricane Irene seemed far, far away. How could one feel anything but optimistic to know that someone like Perlman can make such beautiful music and have major impact on the lives of the people privileged to hear it?
I came in this morning thinking it would be business as usual, but soon there was another kind of music wafting into my office, this time a kind of music I found difficult to classify. Clearly classically-trained musicians at work, but the music appears to be influenced by folk, rock, lots of strains that together are magical. I asked my new friend Dan about the group and learned it is the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. I didn't know of them but find the music irresistible. Turns out the Penguin Cafe Orchestra was formed a couple of decades ago among a group of musicians led by Simon Jeffes, a British musician with classical chops and a major following of his own. The group disbanded in 1997 after Simon Jeffes died of a brain tumor. He left true magic behind for us to enjoy.
Dan tells me the piece to which I was listening is called "Perpetuum Mobile," and was used as the background theme for an Australian made claymation film called "Mary and Max" which debuted at Sundance in 2009 It's what caused him to fall in love with the music of Penguin Cafe Orchestra.
So thanks to Dan, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, like Perlman, set the tone for this Wednesday. Now I'm optimistic about this last day of August, 2011. Wonderful things will happen...in Pittsfield, Vermont, and in Libya and in my home town. Yours too, no doubt.