Thursday, May 29, 2014

Frankie 100

I just came back from an extraordinary event, and I wish I better knew how to describe it. Words like awesome, joyful, awe-inspiring, brilliant, energetic, lovely, warm, swingin’, thoughtful and stellar combine to suggest something of what I experienced, but to be thorough I’d need to use more adjectives than you want to read. Honestly, Frankie 100 ranks as one of the most amazing events I can remember ever. The amazingness rests on meticulous and inspired organization, the reverent memory of a man who seemed to love everybody and elicited great love in return, and over 2,000 gregarious and talented dancers from around the world. The event, Frankie 100, celebrated the hundredth birthday of a man named Frankie Manning, who played a big role in the beginnings of the dance called Lindy hop and went on to play an even bigger role in its resurgence.

The organizers did a superb job. Most importantly, they nailed a few key points. First, they never let us forget the best aspects of Frankie’s character and encouraged us to treat each other by those same standards. Second, they gave us great dance music and an adequate dance floor. Third, they arranged lots of social and cultural activities for smaller groups outside of the main evening events. Beyond this, they filled in a host of administrative and logistical details so that attendees, even those with poor English skills, could focus on having a good time without fretting over how to do it.

In turn, the attendees came prepared to have a good time and to help their fellow dancers have an equally good time. I danced with quite a few extraordinary dancers, people with exceptional skills and expertise. Naturally, I learned from many of them. And in spite of any skill imbalance when I danced with teachers and performers, they shared the joy of dance and the pleasure of partnership. Sometimes I danced with beginners too, and took pleasure in the opportunity to experience the music and the dance in ways that they could follow. But I felt pretty fortunate there, that everybody in the room knew something about Lindy hop and I only met one or two complete beginners. It was a big event, and it drew a committed crowd.

Since I returned home, I’ve enjoyed seeing some of the chatter on the Frankie 100 Facebook page. Lots of others share my sense that we participated in something extraordinary, something never to be repeated in the same way. We will do other things to remember Frankie Manning and his legacy in the coming years, but I expect that future events will be more local. This year, however, we formed a global community of love and we’re going to remember it for the rest of our lives.

Photo by Tim Gee, used by permission

Friday, May 23, 2014

Frankie 100, first impressions

I took the Lucky Star bus from Boston to New York early this morning so I could spend the long weekend at a dance festival called Frankie 100. The bus ride took longer than I expected, since the cops investigated the company and made them begin driving at or near the speed limit. Checking in took a long time too, so I had a chance while waiting in line to chat with people from Australia, Russia and even Belarus. I spent all morning and early afternoon waiting for something or another, and finally had my registration materials and hotel room squared away in time to go down to the Alvin Ailey Theater for some dance lessons.

The dance teachers lined us up and paired us off, and then we rotated partners as we practiced. Most of my partners had names I'd never heard of, so I asked each where she was from. Almost every answer was unique, though I had more than one partner from France, Australia and America. But the internationality, really impresses me. I danced with people from almost all corners of the globe.

This evening's show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem was quite joyful too, and I ran into friends from Lithuania and got to know a delightful group of Swedes. I'm supposed to be dancing right now, but it's raining out so here I am. I have an errand at the Russian Embassy in the morning so I can't stay out late tonight anyway. Tomorrow will be another story.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Happy anniversary

Alla got an offer from Travel Zoo, offering a fancy lunch for two for $33 at the restaurant in a new hotel on the waterfront. She accepted the offer, and told them when she made the reservation that we’d be celebrating our anniversary. That worked out really well.

The restaurant, Aragosta, faces the Boston Harbor. They gave us a table by the window and offered us complimentary glasses of Champagne in celebration of our anniversary. Alla was very pleased by her drink, and was disappointed that I asked for a glass of sparkling water instead, since it turns out she was hoping I’d accept the Champagne and then let her drink it. Anyway, I enjoyed my water.

The menu didn’t strictly match the Travel Zoo coupon, so the waiter gave us a very liberal interpretation of the coupon’s value. We started with a huge platter of Italian meats and cheeses, moved on to seafood/pasta main dishes and ended with tiramisu and tea. The waiter included it all in the value of the coupon, even though we’d managed to order about a hundred bucks’ worth of food. It took us a long time to eat, and we ended up taking home a pretty big bag of leftovers after having a really good time.

We didn’t go directly home, however. We took a meandering walk along the shoreline, exploring hidden residential areas (where we’d love to live), various parks and the Boston Garden. The Boston Garden isn’t really a garden. It’s a big sports arena, home to the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins. The Bruins were getting ready for a Stanley Cup playoff game that night, so a festival atmosphere surrounded the building. We got carried away with the craziness and bought some small things in the souvenir store.

Boston is a great city for walking and touring. I’ve been making regular excursions in various directions on my bicycle, enjoying the spring flowers and all the other people enjoying the city. A couple of weeks ago I saw some musicians posing with their instruments for a picture. I stopped and asked them if they had any gigs coming up, which they did. They would play this evening at the French Cultural Center, so I got the information and promised to go. We came back from the concert a couple of hours ago, happy that we went. We enjoy an abundance of great music because we’re near several great musical schools. Since I like jazz and other types of popular music, I’m particularly happy about being near Berklee College of Music. Come to think of it, I’m pleased about most of what surrounds us.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wedding week

We’ve been pretty busy because Nika and Tim got married on Saturday. We escaped much of the planning and early preparation by virtue of being many time zones away, so the final week gave us, perhaps, a little taste of what Nika has been feeling during months of preparation. We tasted intensity, but we sure did enjoy it.

The bride and groom came to town a week ahead of their wedding. Nika had various to-do lists and lots of ideas of where we’d fit in. The biggest task she entrusted to me involved unfolding and ruffling a couple cubic meters of paper pom-poms while she and Alla did tasks requiring skills I don’t have. We spent most of a day together doing our various assigned tasks and then rocketed ahead to Nika’s spreadsheet/calendar of projects and events.

I particularly enjoyed spending a couple of days at Tim’s family place on Cape Cod, along with Tim’s mom, Nika’s dad and the betrothed. Until this point, we’d never really gotten to know Tim’s mom at anything deeper than a social level and Alla and I especially enjoyed coming to know her as a generous hostess, deep thinker, joyful bon vivant and caring mom. In between wedding-prep tasks, Tim took some of us to visit the Woods Hole Aquarium where he once worked and for a couple of beautiful walks, including Spohr Gardens.

All week it seemed we were either guests or hosts. I dropped the ball on one of my hosting duties, having promised Nika that I’d make potato waffles with smoked trout for a brunch with her bridesmaids. Somehow the day sneaked up on me before I’d done adequate preparation and Alla helped me prepare a simpler alternative, scones with fresh fruit, mango lassi and other goodies. It worked out well, and we certainly enjoyed having the bridesmaids in the house making floral arrangements for the wedding. We’ve known all the bridesmaids for a long time, and I always enjoy seeing them.

Nika gave me a big break on her wedding day, releasing me from further duties until late afternoon. That freed me up to spend a few hours with family members who flew in from California, which we spent touring historic Salem before going to the park-like wedding venue nearby. I changed my clothes in the car while Viktor and the women changed their clothes in the building. Somehow the women got to crash the bridal chamber and dressed along with Nika. Meanwhile, some of Tim’s cousins drove up and parked beside me. The women in the next car applied their makeup as I tied my necktie, and then we got out to greet each other in our wedding finery.

The ceremony could not have been better. Tim’s aunt got permission from the State to officiate in place of a regular minister, and she did a fantastic job. She spent many hours getting ready for it, and she projected just the right balance of familiarity and gravity, humor and sincerity. And then we liked the party that followed just as much. Guests delivered tender and well-thought-out toasts, the disk jockey managed to keep practically everybody on the dance floor, and the food was delicious.

I thought the busy-ness would end after the wedding, as my cousins flew back to California and the newlyweds disappeared for a couple of days alone. In fact, it didn’t quite work out that way. One of my best buddies had come down from Vermont for the wedding, so we invited him and his wife to spend the day with us on Sunday. We didn’t attempt anything terribly strenuous, but we did enjoy a nice walk ending in the Boston Common where a band played in the Parkman Bandstand. We listened to music and I took turns dancing with each of the women present until we finally had to come home to see Nika and Tim, who brought us a big chunk of wedding cake and some leftover beverages.

It’s really all over now. Nika and Tim reappeared on their way to the airport this afternoon and we had one last meal together, up on our roof deck. After lunch, we finished off our part of the wedding cake, took a very short walk, and said a fond goodbye to the bride and groom. During the whole week, everybody radiated so much love (particularly Nika and Tim) that it reflected and reverberated all over the place. We feel really good, but we already miss the company. It was a great week, and we’re still enjoying a fountain of bouquets and cut flowers on every level of our house.