Monday, June 30, 2008

The List

Tomorrow, as promised, I will start my 30 day adventure where I try one new New York thing each day. I'll actually be upstate visiting my parents until Wednesday, so my first new thing will be to visit the town of Woodstock, where I've never been before. Then I'll return to the City and begin my list there. I'm not going to be a fascist with myself about the rules of this little game, because sometimes doing something new will simply be trying a new restaurant, or going to a dinner party where there will be guests I've never met before. I've done a little research and compiled a list to start myself off with - I probably won't do all of these things, and other things will get added as I discover them, but I'm publishing the list so that if any of you are around and think to yourselves "Hey, I've never been to The Village Vanguard either!" and you want to join me, just let me know because adventures are usually more fun when they're shared. I'm not giving myself specific dates to do any of these things, I'll probably just decide a day or two in advance - more if I need reservations - and maybe sometimes I'll just get off on a subway stop I never have before and walk around. Oh - and if anybody has any suggestions, please let me know!

The list - a place to start. I've never:

1. Walked across the Brooklyn Bridge

2. Visited the Botanical Gardens (Bronx) Tuesday-Sunday 10AM-6PM

3. Eaten Dim Sum in China Town; Golden Unicorn, 18 E Broadway at Catherine Street 212-941-0911

4. Attended a Concert at Bargemusic (July 12th at 8PM is free)

5. Attended a Summer Garden free concert at the MOMA sculpture garden (Sundays at 8, doors open at 7)

6. Seen a show at Upright Citizens Brigade , Improv Sketch Comedy, Free shows: Sunday 9:30PM (tickets distributed at 8:15),
Monday and Wednesday at 11:15 PM

7. Attended a Book Reading – best bet, Barnes and Nobles in Union Square for schedule

8. Been to the Triangolo Tango at Chelsea Market Saturday Afternoon

9. Taken a Free Yoga class in Riverside Park Wednesdays at 6:30PM

10. Found the Cheapest and best cheeses; Visit East Village Cheese Store 40 Third Ave btwn 9th and 10th sts 212 477-2601

11. Been to P.S 1 Contemporary Art Center

12. Listened to Jazz at the Village Vanguard

13. Had a lunch of Oysters and Martinis at the Oyster Bar

14. Been to the famous Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market

15. Been to The Frick

16. Been to Neue Gallerie

17. Been to the Museum of the City of New York

18. Visited the Flux Factory, a non-profit artists workshop warehouse

19. Done the Gallery walk in west Chelsea

20. Seen a classic film at the Thalia theater at Symphony Space (July seems to be double features with Hepburn)

21. Shopped for entire dinner at Union Square Greenmarket Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat 8AM-6PM\

22. Tried an entirely raw food dinner at Pure Food and Wine

23. Taken a tour of the Brooklyn Brewery (Saturdays)

24. Gone to a beach accessible by subway from NYC – I’m thinking Brighton Beach, followed by some Ukranian food perhaps

25. Taken Free running lessons in Central Park

26. Attended Trapeze School

27. Checked out new designers at TheMarketNYC, 268 Mulberry St btwn Houston and Prince,

28. Attended a Story/Essay Reading at The Moth

29. Taken a cheese class at Murray’s Cheese Shop

30. Had a Russian/Turkish bath in the East Village, 268 East 10th st btwn 1st Ave and Ave A 212 505 0665

31. Checked out the First Friday party at Guggenheim

32. Eaten the best Mac and Cheese in NYC at S’mac

33. Rented a bike and biked along the Hudson River

34. Walked the length of the Island from the Cloisters to the Ferry, stopping for food along the way (may take
more than one day)

35. Visited the new Brooklyn Ikea, and taken the water taxi to see the Waterfalls installation

36. Been to the Bronx Zoo(!!!!)

37. Been the the Earth Room - a room in Soho full of dirt -

38. Relaxed at the Wave Hill Gardens in Riverdale - free on Tuesdays in the summer -

Thursday, June 26, 2008


There are many extraordinary things about living in New York City, but one is really standing out to me this week: the unbelievable need to acquire, and at some point, discard masses of stuff. Americans love to buy stuff, but in New York, we don't have very much space to keep it. In the rest of the U.S people have massive houses with attached garages where they keep all their stuff, but here in New York, unless your name is Donald Trump, we mostly only have a few square meters to call our own, so space is a precious commodity. For me, who loves old furniture and strange items from different eras, this place is heaven. I would much rather discover an amazing chair from the 1950's with aged wood and black leather cushions that costs me $40 and that I have to lug on the subway from Brooklyn back to my apartment (it's happened, people) than pay $3000 for a ceramic bowl (what a decorator friend of mine told me is normal for clients who can afford a decorator). The thrill is in the hunt and subsequent capturing of a bargain much more than in spending a lot of money on something. Which is why I live and die by the god that is Craigslist.

For anybody who doesn't know, (and if you don't know, what rock have you been living under?) Craigslist is simply the most wonderful invention of mankind. It is a free site where people advertise all kinds of things for sale like furniture, clothing, musical instruments, real estate listings, housing swaps, lessons, groups, and personals. One of my favorite sections for browsing is something called Missed Connections which is people who were too embarrassed to talk to that handsome guy on the 2 train, and so make a little ad on craigslist when they get home and hope he sees it. But I digress. My absolute favorite thing on Craigslist is the furniture listings. I basically furnished my entire apartment by finding people who needed to get rid of all of their stuff NOW so were selling it for a song, and I only chose weird pieces from different eras that I loved. (On a side note, I also found my Italian tutor on craigslist, and I ended up subletting my apartment to a famous opera singer, who found my sublet ad on Craigslist just by random coincidence. I'm telling you, greatest invention ever).

For the last year, every time I'm home and have time on my hands, I find myself browsing Craigslist for things I need or don't need, but the thing I have been determined I would one day find is a free piano. How can there be a free piano you ask? Well, as I said, people have limited space, and pianos are big, so often times, people just want to unload them. And if somebody will pay to haul away their space stealing monstrosity, they can have it for free. I have seen many free pianos advertised over the last 12 months, but none of them has ever worked out to become mine. When I got home from Italy, I intensified my search and discovered something really promising; a piano dealer in the Bronx that needed to liquidate their warehouse. I trekked all the way up there, only to discover that the monsters they were trying to liquidate were the real lemons of the piano world. Back to the drawing board.

As I was browsing the Craigslist furniture section the other day, I saw a piece of furniture that caught my eye, and clicked on the ad, only to discover that it was listed as part of an estate sale - IN MY BUILDING!!!!! EUREKA!!! I made an appointment and went up to look at all the stuff, most of which didn't appeal to me, but spotted in the corner an upright piano. Unfortunately, said the executor, the piano was promised to someone else. But later that night, lo and behold, I got a note under my door saying that the piano was available again. I went up and played it and it was in surprisingly good condition, so she sold it to me for 50 bucks, and I got my friend in the building to help me wheel it right onto the elevator and into my apartment, thus avoiding the probably 300 plus bucks I would have had to pay a mover to get any "free" piano from somebody else's apartment building to mine. Now it proudly sits where my sad little digital keyboard has sat for the last year, and my La Boheme score sits on it, opened and highlighted, but still totally unlearned. But I already had a response to my newly placed Craigslist ad to sell my digital piano, and said potential buyer has an appointment to come look at it tomorrow. I'm selling it for about an eighth of what I paid for it, but now that I have a piano, I have to get rid of it pronto because I don't have the space for it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I'm sorry I haven't written anything substantial since I've been back in the States. I guess was feeling a little lost, and then I got busy, and I also felt like my life got a lot less interesting. Plus I've been dealing with the depression that always seems to follow after a big gig ends and I have too much time on my hands. I was momentarily distracted by a wonderfully fun and unusual gig doing this avant garde "project" with french directors at a downtown theater here in New York. But now that's over, and I found myself falling into a downward spiral of feeling sorry for myself tonight, which only seems to happen when I know I have a long time off with no singing gigs to make me feel like a productive member of society. It seems like time off should be a blessing, but when you love what you do as much as I do, it feels more like a curse, especially because it gives me way too much time to think, and being alone with my thoughts for too long each day can be dangerous for me. I started to feel so upset tonight that around 10 PM I put on my sneakers and took a walk down Broadway to clear my head.

When I got outside, I was reminded of something I really do love about new york; the fact that there are always people on the streets - lots of people - and the city is teeming with life at all hours. Just walking down the street is a great distraction from your thoughts because there are so many people to watch. It's also a great way to collect your thoughts as you get a sense that you are one among many. I ended up wandering into Barnes and Nobles (which was still open - hooray!) and for some reason found myself browsing in the books about New York City. I started flipping though this book about all the great things to do in New York City that are totally free, and I suddenly had an idea.

I have the month of July completely off. My only "job" this month will be to learn two new opera roles because once I start going in August, I have back to back gigs pretty much until Christmas. And while I am glad to have this month to learn these two new roles (one is Musetta which will take me all of 5 minutes to learn, but which makes me feel like my larynx is going to escape through the top of my head because it's a soprano role, and one is this rarely performed Donizetti opera which will be a bigger challenge, but one I'm really eager to get to because I loooooove his music), I find that I have trouble motivating myself to learn music when I have nothing but time. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but when I have a full schedule is when I get the most done. When I'm free I don't know where all my time goes, but nothing seems to get done. I thought about the possibility of getting a little job just for the month, just to keep me busy and on task, but the pickings were slim and the money would be terrible for my limited skill set. So instead of getting a job, I am giving myself the opportunity to have an adventure.

I have decided that for the month of July, I will do something I have never done in New York City every single day, and I will blog about each activity. I will try to keep the activities on the free/cheap side, since money doesn't grow on trees when you're an unemployed opera singer. I mean, I have lived in new york for almost 11 years now, but there are SO many things I have never done, so many places I have never been, and untold adventures to be had out there. So instead of complaining about having time on my hands (again, I apologize for the ridiculousness of this complaint, especially if you have a very time consuming job) I will look at this as an opportunity to have a month long vacation in New York City, and a personal challenge to put myself out there in the world and try new things. And hopefully the new things I'm trying will inspire me to keep on track with the new music I'm learning, and I'll learn some new things about myself in the process. Not to mention the fact that when I do new things (like trying to go a bank in Italy for example) is when I seem to get myself into the funniest situations, and they provide perfect fodder for me to be able to mock myself on this blog.

I'll start July 1st, and try a new activity/restaurant/experience every day. I'll have the next week or so to plan it, get some books to help me think of ideas, and I'll happily take any suggestions from any of you. And I thank you in advance for reading this because sharing new things makes them all the more interesting for me.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Culture Shock

I just returned from the grocery store, where I purchased a few items with which to cook dinner. The items were: one eggplant, one red bell pepper, one small bunch of basil, one small sack of cherry tomatoes, and a container of sea salt. The bill? $15.53. In Italy these items would have cost me 3 euro total for everything. And we wonder why we're going into a recession....

Friday, June 6, 2008

Disorder and Disarray

Whenever I get back from a long trip it takes me at least a week, possibly two, to feel like I have any idea what's going on. I usually take 2 or 3 days just to unpack my suitcases, and another couple of days before I go to the grocery store. I just tend to exist in a sort of no-mans-land until I can get my head wrapped around the idea that I live here and it's time to put on my "normal" hat. Also, usually I have a week or two off after a period of intense focus and concentration, so I tend to let my brain go a little frazzled for a little while anyway. Add to that the fact that I have never been able to get anything done when I have to structure my own time. If I have a rehearsal schedule, even a really busy one, I remain utterly productive, scheduling in practice time, social time with friends, and running all my errands. If I have two weeks of nothing, I end up procrastinating, watching tv, spending way too much time looking at furniture on craigslist (I am forever decorating and redecorating my apartment), and chatting on the phone. With no enforced schedule, I am lost in a sea of procrastination and distraction.

Today was one of those new york days where I wind my way through the day only to realize I haven't really gotten anywhere or accomplished anything. In the morning I made my way to the performing arts library to try to get my hands on a score for this rare french operetta that I have to perform excerpts from in a couple of weeks. In fact, rehearsal starts Thursday for this project and I still don't have this music. After special ordering the score, I had to return today to pick it up, but I couldn't check it out, so I had to photocopy the arias, except I wasn't allowed to copy them myself, so I had to have a librarian copy them for me, and I only noticed when I got home that she had left out a page in the middle of one of the arias. I tried to get my air conditioners installed in my windows today but the guy who does them for me wasn't working at the hardware store today. Then, I made an appointment at the Genius Bar at the Mac store for tonight at 8:20 (forgetting that it was Friday night and having a "date" with a guy who is working in the mac store REALLY doesn't count) only to be told that the thing I wanted to do with my computer is possible but only if you download third party software, which they don't recommend. And having thought I had totally conquered jet-lag, it seems to instead be completely knocking me on my ass at 11:30, when I become delirious and lose the ability to communicate.

Maybe tomorrow I'll be fully functional and get everything on my list done. But considering the first night I arrived home I wrote down "buy dental floss" and I still haven't one week later, things aren't looking so good in the Rivera department of productivity, or in the oral hygiene department for that matter.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

She's Baaa-aaack

What can I say, it turns out I do really like blogging.

I thought I was adjusting remarkably well to the time change and avoiding jet-lag for the most part, until I passed out drooling and snoring on the couch tonight at 9:30 during Hilary Clinton's supposed history making speech. I woke up again in time to see the beginning of Obama's speech, but when I felt myself drifting off I figured I'd better get off the couch and walk it off, which led me right over here to the computer and my new favorite past-time. Also on the "not quite ready to admit I'm not in Italy" front, I went out for dinner with Georgia last night at an italian restaurant, I forced the poor unsuspecting Italian waiter to talk to me in Italian, followed by a trip to the new york outpost of Grom, the gelateria that exists in only two places; Torino and New York City. Just to be fair, it was Georgia's idea to eat Italian, and to go to Grom, but I'm certain she was suggesting those two ideas because of the forlorn, nostalgic look I was getting in my eye at the mere mention of the word Torino.

I marched into my agent's office today and told him that I was officially addicted to working in Italy and/or Europe, and that if he didn't get me more jobs there, I would die. I actually said that to him. The good news is that he totally gets what I'm talking about - my agents are the only ones in new york who speak multiple languages and conduct more than half of their business in Europe, so they know why their artists want to work there.

So let's all cross our fingers and pray to all that is holy that by the end of this year Americans will be feeling the love abroad - both our country as a whole as a result of our exciting and uniting first black president, and one of our countrywomen specifically - me! Amen.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ci Vediamo

Well, I guess this is it, my final posting about my trip to Italy.

I'm back in my new york apartment now. Usually when I get back to my apartment, I am so glad to be there that I'm practically kissing the furniture. This time was different. It almost feels like I have another home now, because of how welcome and wonderful I felt in Torino, and for the first time in a long time, instead of sitting on my suitcases, eager to get out the door, I really didn't want to leave. This trip truly changed me, and I learned so many important things. So for my last posting, I want to talk about the most important lessons I am taking away from this experience.

1. Speaking another language is incredibly gratifying and wonderful.

I didn't know how much I would love it, and I wasn't sure an elderly 32 year old lady would still have the brain function to learn enough to be able to speak another language, but I did, and it gave me such a special feeling of happiness. I never had a friendship with someone in a foreign language before and now I have several! Before I got on the airplane from Paris to New York, I said a little prayer to the universe asking "please let me be seated next to an Italian speaker for this long flight so I'll have one last chance on this trip in this language" and low and behold, I was sitting behind a young newlywed couple from Napoli, neither of whom could speak a word of english. I was so giddy to be able to translate for them, and help them with their plans for new york, to tell them in Italian what the food and drink choices were, to help them fill out the customs forms. It made me ridiculously happy. I love being able to speak another language, and I love it especially when I can help other people with this new skill.

2. I love working in and living in Europe, and specifically, Italy.

Italy has it's quirks, to say the least. And singing in Italy has it's challenges. I've written many blog entries about both of those experiences. But even when I was cursing the closed supermarket or trembling backstage because of lack of rehearsal, I was loving every single second. I want to sing a lot more in Italy - before it was just something I wanted to do because I thought it would be interesting, and maybe good for my career. Now the place and the people are in my soul, and I don't just want to go back, I need to. I feel every fiber of myself being pulled back there like a magnet.

3. Generosity of spirit is something that can transcend language and culture.

This paragraph is about what I learned from meeting my friend Vincenzo. He is truly a one of a kind individual, and I have never experienced such unconditional support and caring from any person other than my parents. He treated me immediately like I was a member of his own family, because he could sense, I suppose, that I needed someone to help me. From the very first day when he saw me standing in the first rehearsal totally confounded and clueless, he was the one who marched right up to me and started introducing me to everyone, even though it was also his first day working at the theater, and he didn't know much more than I did. He didn't care that I barely spoke Italian, he talked to me anyway, and he is the reason I speak Italian now, because he kept talking to me every day and that's how I learned. He had me over to his apartment and he taught me how to cook southern italian dishes. He had my parents over to his apartment and he taught them to cook italian dishes. He let me stay with him when I stayed the extra week, and he insisted I take his room. He helped me run errands, came to my rehearsals to cheer me on, always had a bottle of water for me backstage and words of encouragement, He found a way to get me the archival dvd of the first performance, he brought my dad to the theater doctor, he found me a masseuse, a Berlioz score, and the medicine I needed when I was sick. And he wasn't my boyfriend, or my brother, or my agent - he was just a person who sensed I needed help and was generous enough to give it. So maybe the biggest lesson I learned from this trip was that when someone is willing to help you, accept their help, and when you can return the favor to them or others, do it. That is what makes life beautiful. I think after meeting him, I am a better person because of who he is and what he taught me about caring for others unconditionally.

And that, my friends, about wraps things up for me. I'm going to take a few days off and see if blogging, like Italy, starts pulling me back. I have a feeling I'll be back in both worlds very soon.