Opera Opus

S and I have been really happy with our first-ever Metropolitan Opera subscription this year. Last week we got a renewal packet in the mail, and the same problem presented itself this time as last time: subscriptions are grouped by the day of the week of the performances you’re going to see, but we’re more interested in choosing individual operas, since, given a year’s advance notice, we can go on any day at all. But there are so many packages that it’s too much to juggle to see which package you want to buy.
So I snarfed the Met’s subscription listings and made a page with JQuery and tablesorter that reveals the packages that have the most shows that you want to see, and count how many shows you need to exchange or buy individually to see everything you’ve selected.
For us, it looks like it might be Wednesday 3, since Saturday Matinees don’t appeal very much. Find out for yourself with the Metropolitan Opera Subscription Helper. It is not in any way affiliated with the Met or anything else.


I was at Heathrow last Saturday evening, picking up my betrothed, and as I watched the people exiting the Secure Area I saw a serene white spiky head strolling out. David Byrne! No. Maybe? Peer intently. I’d have to look closely at a recent picture to be certain. Or maybe he’ll mention London in his blog; no, surely he won’t:

David Byrne Journal: 5.20.07: London
I love the juxtaposition here between the two opposing poles of dress and manner: the reserved, polite, perfect and solicitous staff contrasted with the world of theatrical shock and gross-out represented by Chapman bros., Damien Hirst, chavs and football hooligans. It all has to come out, I guess — the bigger the front the bigger the back. I’m reminded of the ads that plaster the phone booths offering spankings and humiliation.

He even strolled back toward the terminal-exit doors a few minutes later, against the stream of humans. I’ve been meaning to ask him to write usage notes for our thesaurus. He’s one of my top N role models/heroes/admirees.  And you can see his reflection in the “THIS IS NONE OTHER THAN THE HOUSE OF GOD” photo in the post.


a homework assignment by someone named Yassin, with drawings of some sort of movement notation labeled Balance, Extension, Lengthening, Directionback of assignment, with Flexion, Rotation, Stillness, Motion toward, spring, motion away, falling, and arrive at a shape

I found this on the ground near my laundromat in Sunset Park. I don’t know any movement notation to know whether Yassin is just regurgitating something taught in class; I prefer to imagine that the homework assignment was “devise a dance notation“. This seems so abstract for a random school in Brooklyn.

pij to

Getting on the subway around 9pm on a midsummer Saturday, I saw there was some amount of bustle. A neigborhoody (i.e. latino) man approached the station attendant: “A guy’s ODing: call an ambulance.” Walking down the ramp to the platform, we see that the train is in the station, but also hear a commotion. I quicken my pace, though I can’t say whether it’s because I want to catch the train, or to see what is up with the crowd. About fifteen people are shaking a red-clad person who, by his distance and floppiness, looks like a small child.

The neighborhood person, returning to the crowd, says “Water! With ice! Anybody have ice water?” S and I had just filled our newish pink 1-liter Nalgene, to get us through the hot night platforms on our 3-transfer subway trek across Brooklyn. “We have water, but it’s not icy.” For a moment he holds out, as if someone else might yet show up with ice water. A middle-ageish woman is also saying something about agua. Seeing no other offers, the crowd takes up our water; they unscrew the top and encourage OD to drink it.

Everyone in the crowd (to my surely cynically biased recollection) is latin@ and “from the neighborhood”: we appear to be the only hipster gentrifiers who are joining the crowd.

The ODer. He is skinny in a youthful way, his face very pale. His head, shaved in the past week or so, is flopped back as they bring the bottle to his lips; his friend is shouting at him in Polish. The crowd thoughtfully dumps some of the water on his head; this brings his head upright. “Water! Drink the water!” They put the bottle in his hands, and he stares at this shimmering crystalline pink football. “Agua drink water!” He seems distracted by the lid flopping around on its tether. His friend says pij to! pij to! The crowd takes up this bit of Polish: pito! pito! He stares at the bottle in his hands; others shove it to his lips, but he pulls it away, with strings of saliva attached.

He grasps the bottle decisively in both hands, and shakes it wildly up and down twice, still entirely bewildered. Pito! Pij to! The water splashes the crowd and its cool impact somehow breaks the spell. An announcement tells us that an ambulance is on its way. The ODer sits on a bench, his friend still encouraging him to pij. The train is getting ready to leave. We sort of halfheartedly ask if he still needs the bottle. “Sure,” (the friend) “it’s okay.” But OD is clearly just as confused by the idea of letting go of the bottle as he is by the idea of drinking from it. We get on the train. Time to buy another nalgene.

tips on biking through a subzero transit strike

Today I saw a link to a Transportation Alternatives press release on
biking during the transit strike

I was quite surprised (dumbfounded) to see only two sentences on dressing properly for the cold. In one of my circles, this subject is a source of perennial conversation, philosophizing, fine-tuning and oneupsmanship. And all that TransAlt says is “wear gloves, and consider a hat or bandanna”. Right now my computer tells me that the temperature is -6 celsius: a bandanna is not going to keep your ears from literally freezing. So here, because I love you, are some tips learned through three winters of serious winter biking. The first section concerns body temperature, the second addresses safe handling issues.

Staying warm but not too warm

  • wear the warmest shoes or boots or slippers or anything that keeps your feet warm; wear as much sockage as you can put on without limiting blood circulation to your feet. Once your toes get cold there’s no way to warm them up again. Some of you may have seen me with plastic bags on my feet: plastic is an effective windbreaker, and if your shoes are letting in too much wind/cold, plastic over your outermost sock will help. But if you ride with plastic on your feet for more than an hour, sweat may become a problem.
  • keep your ears warm with a headband or whatever; when it’s below freezing I’ve never wanted to uncover my ears, even when the top of my head is too warm. Other head coverings are nice, but if you’re wearing a helmet this gets difficult and generally requires thin, bike-specific skullcaps, earbands, and balaclavas.
  • if you buy one piece of bike-specific winter clothing, let it be a balaclava, which covers your whole head but with an opening for your eyes, which opening can be pulled up over your nose or pulled down under your chin as body temperature demands.
  • cover your nose in vaseline to keep it from burning: less essential if you’re using a balaclava, but also a nice prophylactic against the chafing that will come from wiping your runny snotty nose.
  • mittens are better than gloves, as long as you can operate your brakes; glo-mitts/glittens with thinsulate lining are better than a cup of hot chocolate.
  • a non-cotton knit sweater is great insulation and will wick the moisture away from your body. Wool is the watchword but acrylic will do much the same, without enslaving sheep. If you have longjohns, wear them underneath. But as any mountaineer will tell you, cotton is death.
  • unless your ride is very brief, you don’t want a heavy coat: it will just get soaked with the sweat that is being wicked away from your body so efficiently by your base layers. If you’re afraid you’ll stay cold for too long, bring an extra, heavier sweater to put on over everything else [under your jacket]. If you have any sporty jacket with “pit zips” to let air in the sleeves, you will probably want to wear that; otherwise any wind-blocking jacket will do fine. I usually spend the second half of my ride with the pit-zips open and often even the front zipper.
  • your legs are pumping fast and generally don’t get too cold, but longjohns are good here, too, and I never leave home without longjohns on, all winter. Warm pants on top finish the job. Sweat has never been a problem for me here. Gentlemen may experience Radical Genital Shrinkage, which is comical as long as it is not so bad that the thaw is painful; if it is painful you may try adding another layer of insulation with a soft, warm sock. I just started this this winter, and it really helps.

It truly is important not to overdress: sweat = water = ice on your skin. But some areas sweat more than others, some areas get less body heat circulation than others, and ideally you will have the option of adjusting your coverings to let out heat when you really start warming up.

But it’s also important to understand that you will always sweat, no matter what. This morning I was experimenting with fewer, thinner layers than usual: cold-weather Under Armour, a thin cotton oxford buttondown shirt, and my windbreaker. I was hoping this would keep me drier by keeping me cooler. It certainly kept me cooler: my trunk never warmed up, I felt cold in my torso for the whole 50 minutes I rode. But when I stopped, my buttondown shirt was damp with the sweat that been kept from evaporating by my [waterproof] windbreaker, whose pit-zips and front zipper I was too cold to unzip this morning. On my way home, I will skip the oxford and wear my medium-thick sweater over the under armour, and should be able to unzip my pitzips after 10-20 minutes.

Staying Upright

The city generally does a decent job of cleaning snow off the streets, but the real problems come when the snow has melted and refrozen into patches of ice. Or, worse, when these refrozen patches begin to melt and become superslick with a layer of water on top, as if freshly zambonied.

  • Avoid ice.
  • prefer patches of snow over flat patches of ice
  • prefer irregular, snowy, ridged ice over flat slick ice
  • but prefer flat slick ice over shiny slick bumpy ice
  • never brake on ice unless you are ready to catch your fall

Don’t freak out about it too much: ice makes up a tiny, statistically meaningless portion of the ground you will cover on your bike; it is almost always avoidable. In fact, so far I’ve only hit unavoidable ice once in NYC, and I would have been fine except that I was going too fast: Last winter I took a bad spill on the Williamsburgh Bridge when I was going 18mph near the bottom of the bridge, was braking in anticipation of a turn, and hit a patch of ice that had shifted and reformed during the day. This taught me two things:

  • don’t go too fast unless you can be certain that ice won’t be sneaking up on you — e.g., you should be alright if you crossed the bridge ice-free an hour before, but just because it was clear in the morning doesn’t mean it’s clear tonight.
  • even when you hit a patch of ice rather slowly, don’t brake: just roll straight over it: don’t try to turn or stop. Any skidding/slipping on the ice means you won’t regain your traction until you’re off the ice or on the ground.

Oh, three things actually:

  • A helmet is a good idea (my helmetted head whacked on the ground quite firmly)

Slick but bumpy ice bounces your tire and gives you more chances to lose traction than smooth ice, but smooth ice gives you further to slip if you lose traction. As long as you’re going slow enough, you can probably catch yourself in either case.

Look ahead and avoid ice.

Okay, it’s probably not going to sabotage you to brake very gently. But practice and learn to avoid skids, or to handle the skids safely. It won’t kill you to fall on ice anyway, but it will make you feel like a badass when you don’t fall.

Further reading:
BikeWinter Chicago: Gin’s Tips (and the rest of “Tips & Resources”)
icebike.org, especially: