German Cabaret Artists, Cleansing, Pork Fat and Tweak the Bunny…a Week’s Worth of Conversation

Poor lamb. We found her wandering the streets of Stuttgart.

Poor lamb. We found her wandering the streets of Stuttgart.

This is Heather Nanni, taking a break from her role as Tweak the Bunny to bring you this post.  That’s right; I’m Heather, not Tweak Bunny or Dashi Dog or Captain Barnacles the Polar Bear or any other member of the Octonauts.  Problem is, throughout the day, Allegra insists that I assume the role of any number of these characters. As a matter of fact, this evening, as I played Octonauts with Allegra as she took a bath, she informed me that she was “not impwessed” with how I was playing the game and gave me notes for improving my performance as Kwazi Cat. Being that I soon have to return to work (I know. I know.  I only teach two nights a week, but there is a lot of planning and correcting at home-I swear), I am trying to give the kids as much playtime as possible.  Unfortunately, all of this role playing is making me feel a bit schizophrenic, so for the moment, I’m happy to be just plain old weird Heather, writing her weird blog.  I’ve been so looking forward to writing this week, and I’ve tossed around a lot of ideas.  I have also been feeling rather grouchy and peevish, so I thought I would write some snarky, petulant blog about something that’s been annoying me as a way of alleviating some of my general negativity. .  And I reject that!  I want to giggle.  So after some careful deliberation, I have decided  against wading over into the dark side, to ignore its enticements,to forgo dark, brooding, smart ass ramblings in favor of recounting the ridiculous thoughts and conversations I had this week, which may very well only be funny to me, so don’t feel guilt by shutting this down; thus, shutting me up. For those maniacs who wish to stick around, here goes…

In search of lighter, happier material, I reflected upon this past week and to my surprise recalled some rather silly conversations.  There was the one I had with another student’s mother at the dance studio about cleansing. She’s a lovely lady and five days into a cleanse, eating only the healthiest of foods, drinking lots of water… At some point during our conversation, I realized that I did not have the willpower to omit all  dietary pleasures and confessed that I lacked both the discipline and desire to give up martini’s and pork fat.  My admission that the previous night, when cutting my children’s meat, I removed the fat from their chops and ate it for dinner elicited a laugh.  Then there was the conversation I had with the owner of the stables where my son takes riding lessons.  He confessed his beer habit and surveyed all present on their poison.  Of course mine is vodka.  Unfortunately when he asked me my vodka of choice, I found myself recounting the sad tale of how my husband and I started out drinking Grey Goose, but how after our first child we had to downgrade to Skyy and how we now find ourselves drinking Majorska.  I then made myself feel better by stating, “It’s not that bad.  At least it comes in a glass bottle.”  I got some pity laughs for that one.  But the very best and funniest of the week came from my husband.

 On Monday Giorgio tried on a new black v-neck sweater, looked at himself in the mirror and matter of factly informed me that  he looked  like a “cabaret artist from Stuttgart.” What?  On what planet would a cabaret artist from Stuttgart be the first thing to come to mind??  Granted, Giorgio did live in Stuttgart many, many years ago, but cabaret artist?  Why not singer or dancer, or performer even?  There’s just something about his use of the term artist that tickled me. I mean he had me thinking Berlin, the world on the brink of war, a tawdry, smoke filled club and a show being emceed by some sexually ambiguous emaciated person with a pale face and dark red lips sinisterly grinning at a pseudo-grotesque, featureless audience, all faces obscured by smoke and shadows. And he delivered it with such nonchalance that you would assume that German cabaret artist  is a typical reference for those of us who reside on the east coast of the United States. 

Upon further reflection, I think, perhaps, despite his adamant denial, my darling husband kind of digs the whole cabaret thing.  It’s got me thinking.  In the very infancy of our courtship I did sport a jet black, super short, Liza Minnelliesque pixie cut.  I also had a penchant for wearing bright red lipstick and fishnet stockings. And at some point during that time I had Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories on my nightstand. Hmmmm.. 

 Anyway, Giorgio’s description  of himself as a German cabaret artist struck me as so weird and out of place and hysterical that I had to immediately call my brother Sean Crose, another daft kat with an offbeat sense of humour and love of the absurd.  Clearly, my brother and I managed to make our way out of the same gene pool, gasping for air and full of neurosis and weirdness.  When the two of us emerged from the womb, the doctors probably had to beat the shit out of us, not to help us take our first breathes but to get us to snap the fuck out of our first baby panic attacks.  While we nearly killed each other during adolescence, we became the best of friends in early adulthood.  When we weren’t running around the city getting plastered in dive bars, we spent countless hours watching and quoting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Plan Nine from Outer Space and anything from Mystery Science Theater, Giant Spider Invasion being one of our personal favorites.  So I just knew that he would fully appreciate Giorgio’s referring to himself as a cabaret artist from Stuttgart.  And my brother didn’t disappoint.  He gave me the much desired belly laugh that I had hoped for, and then we got to talking.  We talked about Germany and World War II and Mussolini and Giorgio’s parents who grew up in Italy during the war.  We got to talking about Giorgio’s mother and how she possess a style and sophistication that reminds me of Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita (In addition to being beautiful, she’s a great person). We talked about Giorgio’s dad and how it’s a flipping shame that he was taken from this world too soon and how he was just one of those special people whose very presence made you feel good. Then somehow we moved back to talk about the executions of Mussolini and Clara Petacci and back to Hitler and his stupid mustache, which got us to talking about mustaches and mustache style and handlebar mustaches. We talked about how handlebar mustaches are all the rage with those damn young hipsters, which got my brother going on how ridiculous he would look with such a mustache and how he would bear a closer resemblance to our great, great grandfather who came through Elis Island after emigrating from Ireland than a young James Franco wannabe.  And this talk of the handlebar mustaches brought the conversation full circle and back to Giorgio, who, likely inspired by Kurt Russell in Tombstone, once grew handlebar mustache himself because he really is more cowboy than cabaret artist.  He’s an Italian who as a young boy developed a great love for America. He overdosed on spaghetti westerns and, in a music store in Rome,  discovered Alabama’s Mountain Music which began his love affair with country music.  When he met me, a Norwegian techno music loving east coast girl, he introduced me to country music, which I’ve grown to dig. 

So that’s it.  The story of how a silly remark led to a much needed laugh and a great conversation about evil villains and beautiful people and how a great conversation led to a flood of good memories and my personal conclusion that my husband is one awesome and strange dude.

Killing the Arts with their Nonsense

Painted by my grandmother, Margureite Dunne

Painted by my grandmother, Margureite Dunne

As an unhappy teenager, I immersed myself in dance and theater.  The arts enabled me to paradoxically exist and disappear, which worked out well for a kid who felt invisible and, despite the desire to exist and be acknowledged, felt too insecure and uncomfortable to be noticed.  The arts also allowed me the freedom to live in a universe that ran parallel to a reality that, to my young self, was dark and sad. They gave me a voice when I was too shy and self-conscious to speak. They allowed me to holler without a sound and magically create beauty out of ugliness.

Thankfully, I was granted a modest degree of  talent and was able to pursue modern dance as a profession.  As I grew into adulthood, dancing became my drug, better than martinis or sex or cigarettes; although, I must admit, I derived great and perverse pleasure when I emerged damp and tired from the rehearsal studio, ventured out  into the cold New York City night and lit up.  There was just nothing that compared to the sensation of inhaling smoke and cold air into lungs freshly opened from intense physical activity. Ahhhhh..anyways..I am also happy to report that with age came greater happiness, and, when dancing, I achieved moments of pure joy.

Despite the wonderous moments, an artist’s life can be a difficult, dirty and weird one as well.  There were years when I lived like a subterranean rodent and shared my residents with rats and other vermin.  I lived in dangerous neighborhoods in Inwood and the lower east side.  I risked my life getting off the subway in the wee hours of he morning to schlep through the bowels of the city on my way home from working some shitty job to support my dancer’s existence. Thank God dancers don’t eat  because I would have been in trouble if I had to buy food, and I was certainly unwilling to abandon my beloved cigarettes. I love to smoke, and, although it’s been twelve years since my last puff (with the exception of the occasional cigar), I still miss it.

Eventually, I had to give up my artist’s life.  I simply would never make a living as a dancer and with the stress of not having money, health insurance or a safe place to live, I decided it was time to move on.  The thing is, I have never given up my love of the arts.  The other night I sat with Allegra and introduced her to the New York City Ballet.  We watched excerpts from Balanchine’s Jewels and the dancing was exquisite. We watched another YouTube video which included an interview with Peter Martins, New York City Ballet’s Artistic Director.  He spoke of the importance of the orchestra and the musicality of NYCB  dancers and explained how Balanchine’s choreography was about the music. I know the dancer’s love of music.  I understand how the low sad strains of a cello can flood you with tears and how the glorious notes of the violin as it makes its way up the scale can cause your heart to burn.  I guess that is why I always found over intellectualized modern dance numbers executed in silence to be obnoxious.

Even more bizarre to me than some of the avant garde modern dance pieces I have seen are some of the dance numbers I witnessed at the talent show of my son’s former parochial school. I guess I should preface this by stating that I simply don’t get what so many of the local dance studios are teaching the kids.  I do know that the parents are constantly buying bedazzled costumes for dance competitions.  How is it possible that dance competitions for six years olds even exist?  I mean, how can these studios possibly be instilling a love of the art form when the focus is competition?  I am confused. Are we talking about cheerleading or dancing?  What about the abstract expression of emotion?  What about developing a deep understanding and appreciation of the music?  Well…  at the aforementioned talent show many young students from the local competition dance academies performed, and I was appalled.  There was no artistry, no musicality, no technique.  There were, however, ridiculous movements set to songs with inappropriate lyrics.  What they are teaching children in these studios is not art, it is bedazzled suburban bullshit, or burbshit if you will. Dance studios are businesses, and they thrive in the burbs where parents are all too willing to enroll their children in whatever they think everyone else’s kids are doing.   In the burbs parents pay boatloads of money on lessons and clubs and teams, not necessarily because their children express an interest in these things but because they feel they should be doing these things.   I cannot help but question what these parents will say in ten or twelve years if their children express an interest in pursuing dance on a professional level.  Will they support their children entering the artist community or will they frown upon it and encourage their kids to enter more stable (ha!)  fields like finance, business and law? If they do encourage their children to pursue their dreams, then why not start them off in a reputable institution that respects the art form.  AND if they would never stand for their children becoming artists,  why expose them to it at all, especially on such a base level?  I guess the answer to that is that it’s just what suburban kids do and also perhaps a broad range of extracurriculars looks good on the college application.  Great.  Way to suck the soul out of the art form.

Speaking of sucking the soul out of the art, I also had a deeply disturbing experience at a local music studio.  Last year I enrolled Jack, then seven, in drum lessons.  I love drumming (listening, not playing) and Jack loves music, so we were both very excited to start.  As I have mentioned before, my Jack has some special needs, and, at the time, Jack was enrolled in school. For him, each day was more painful than the next, everyday bringing with it a new failure and additional blow to his already fragile self-esteem.  We enrolled him in music class to bring a bit of joy into his difficult week.  It was supposed to be fun and stress free.  And the first class was great.  His teacher had him tap along on his drum pad while he played Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” When class was over, Jack was pumped and eager to return the following week.  It was during the second class that things took a turn for the worse.  I observed from the window, so I know exactly when everything went south, which was when the instructor attempted to teach Jack how to read the notes.  Now Jack has attention issues, so what do you think he did after already having a long, hard day at school?  He zoned out. He quietly zoned out.  After class I was politely informed by his instructor that there was nothing more he could do with Jack and that I should buy him a play drum set.  Come again?! Dude, you’re a drumming teacher.  Your student is seven years old.  Why don’t you just ask him what kind of music he likes and let him follow along as you play?  Why don’t you just talk about music?  Why don’t you just let him play on the drum and you help him learn through discovery?  Why don’t you care?  Why don’t you give a fuck?  He’s a quirky kid, probably going to be some kind of artist.  He’s a bright kid.  He’s an interesting and passionate kid.  Why can’t you just show the slightest bit of interest?  Oh that’s right.  You work at the suburban music factory where all the “normal” kids of the world are sent to follow your curriculum and where the parents check to make sure that their current seven year olds and future masters of the universe learn to read as well as robotically play music.  Again-burbshit. What the hell would these people do with a true maniac artist?  Where would  Gelsey Kirkland or Van Gogh or Miles Davis or Foster Wallace or…stand in their esteem?

So, my advice to parents who want to instill a true love of the arts in their children is to first teach them yourself.  Listen to classical masterpieces, watch theater and dance productions, read great literature and talk about it, the nuances, the meaning, the underlying emotions.  Seek art in life, in it’s joy and grief.  Look at frozen ponds and enjoy the splendor of the ice sparkling like crystal in the sun.  Sit at the beach on a dark, gray day and seek the inspiration that Turner and Winslow Homer found.  Stand in your backyard on a cold winter morning and enjoy the silence and peace that only a winter morning can bring.  Find art in life, then find true lovers of art to teach your children.  Ignore bells and whistles and promises of sparkly polyester costumes and dance competition glory.  Look for passion,experience and sincerity, and, when you find that, you will find worthy mentors for your children.  And in supporting true artists, we save art.

The Domestically Challenged Homemaker’s Holiday Aftermath

I think this picture just about says it all.

photo.JPG Tree 2

That’s right.  That’s our Christmas tree–this afternoon, not Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or yesterday for that matter. Let me say that everyday, well maybe every other day, we religiously filled the stand with fresh water. I did notice a couple of days after Christmas there appeared to be an overabundance of needles on the floor, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Last night, however, when I accidentally bumped into our tree, I was shocked when it actually rained needles. Although I hate taking down the tree on New Year’s Day (why make the end of Christmas week any sadder?), it had to come down today…obviously.  So what happened when I began to pull off the ornaments? Well it was like the scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas when all the needles fall off his tree when he attempts to decorate it.  I never thought that could really happen.  Of course I know that needles fall from dry pine trees, but nearly all of them??? That was just nuts.

I can’t help but ponder what our neighbors will think of us, especially once they see the naked skeleton of a  tree lying there at the end of our driveway waiting for the refuse department to pick it up.  I mean we must already seem pretty odd.  For starters,  the lights are on in our house until all ungodly hours.  Of course Giorgio returns from work very late at night and I wait up for him, then I write or read and before you know it it’s almost morning, but the neighbors certainly don’t know what’s going on over here.  Another thing is that we homeschool Jack, but, again, the neighbors don’t know that.  For all they know, we simply don’t send our kid to school.  Oh yeah, I recently realized that our blinds our quite thin, so if the lights are on inside, you can actually  see our images from the outside. The problem is that we dance a lot.  We do the Charleston, the robot, a little bit of Fosse-esque broadway, Graham style modern, hip-hop, tap…. You name it, we do it, perhaps not well, but we do it anyway.  Too bad we weren’t aware that the neighbors can see us.  So add to all of this the needless Christmas tree and we can appear weirder than we actually are. Oh well.

So here’s another picture of what happens in our house after the holidays.

photo.JPG Oven

I realize the image isn’t super clear, so I’ll explain. That’s smoke billowing out of our oven.  We had our family over for champagne and a turkey dinner to celebrate the New Year but we smoked the shit out of our house before they arrived.  Of course the smoke is the result of droppings from Christmas Eve dinner which landed and were left on the bottom of our oven. As for inviting everyone to dinner, we figuered “Hell, why not have the clan over for a gander at our needless Christmas tree?  It’s not everyday you get to see one of those.”

Here’s another.

IMG_20140101_144209.jpg porch

Yep. This week we set up our backyard skating rink.  Unfortunately, we had a little leak.  No worries.  I am certain the rink will be up and running within the next day or two.

So there you have it.  The aftermath of our Christmas holiday.  Good job Nanni Family.  Here’s to another stellar year!!!

P.S. I just had to add another shot Giorgio took this morning (it’s now the day afer New Years).  Behold…Needless tree awaiting collection! I should feel a little embarrassed by this; don’t you think?  The worst part-it won’t be picked up until the 15th!!!  Until that time, it will sit at the end of our driveway, a stark reminder of..ummmmm…of…. Oh hell, I don’t know.  Anyway, enjoy a laugh at the expense of our poor, sad, dry, needless tree.