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September 30, 2006

Beware evil treadmills - or: I am such an idiot.

Greetings from Seattle.

More on the trip later, but I need to tell this story while I'm still laughing.

The fitness center at the Renaissance Hotel (Yay, Priceline! $65 a night and it's a junior suite with a view) doesn't have an elliptical trainer, just stepping machines and a bank of treadmills. I don't usually use a treadmill, but I opted for it.

It's chilly here, so I wore a long sleeve shirt over a t-shirt. I also forgot to grab a towel before I got on the treadmill. Note these mistakes well.

After about 7 minutes of brisk walking I started to work up a decent sweat and tried to take my shirt off. While still walking. This involved letting my headphones dangle dangerously down on the treadmill, pulling my shirt over my head while still trying to walk and. . .before I knew it I had been deposited off the back of the treadmill like an OK, Go video.

For some stupid reason I thought I could just jump back on. A moving treadmill. Yup, I pitched forward, did a facefirst pratfall on the machine and then got transported to the back and unceremoniously off the back again. My pride was skinned more than my knees.

The worst thing was the place of course had five or six other people exercising, and they saw it. I felt like my first cat, Winnie, who used to jump onto the back of my folding chairs, causing them to fold right up onto her. She would slink away embarrassed, "I meant to do that . . ."

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 2:36 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 27, 2006

At home he looks like a tourist

Heading down to see Shen Wei last night, as I passed (ironically enough) the International Center of Photography, I saw three Japanese tourists taking a picture. I paused to look in the direction of their shot and realized that they had good taste. The Empire State Building looked particularly lovely.


New York, New York.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 26, 2006

I’m an Eggspert.

Or so the news industry thinks. A nice lady from an outfit that produces soft news stories for CBS called me last week. She found me via my blog and asked me questions about shopping through online portals. This is something I do know a little about, so she asked me to do a TV interview.

“Oh, a crew will just come to your house and. . .”

“No. I’m happy to film outside or I can come to you.” Anyone who knows me knows why I refused.

CBS’s Studios are two blocks from my house so that was the most obvious solution.

I usually worry more about TV interviews, but I was amused this time and didn’t spend hours freaking out over what shirt to wear or my hairline. (Miles and points? Now I’m an expert on miles and points!) CBS studios have deeply irritating security, involving entering license information into a computer and taking a picture. I don’t really do paranoia very well, and then the waiting area had about 12 TV screens. Most tuned to “The Price is Right.” I don’t even have one working TV in my home, so I pulled out knitting to try and tune it all out. The most disturbing thing was watching the security guard get completely involved in the game show and cheer on the contestants. Does he do that all day?

Once the interviewer, a personable young woman named Mary, came to the reception area, things got much better. I was interviewed in the Eric Sevareid room; a small, narrow black room with a director’s chair where the interviewee sits. It was Mary, myself and a cameraman. The oddest sensation was when the strong lights were trained on me and I had the strangest sensation, much as at the ophthalmologist’s, of being able to see the blood vessels in my eyeballs reflected in my glasses.

The interview was about 10 questions and lasted about that many minutes. Of the questions were on general use of online portals and when I’ve used them – I told them about the Russian trip – and some basic strategies. I redid a few answers when I lost my train of thought in the middle of a sentence. We took a few action shots for introduction of me sitting at a computer pointing and clicking and then it was done.

Mary said it should be on CBS in about two weeks. Luckily, I don’t have a working TV.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:34 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 25, 2006

Leigh's Dance Card - Bicoastal Edition

9/26 - Joyce Theater, New York. Shen Wei Dance Arts, Re - and The Rite of Spring on duty for Danceview Times. I've met once Wei briefly; we both became Guggenheim Fellows the same year.

9/30, 10/1 - McCaw Hall, Seattle. Pacific Northwest Ballet, Director's Choice It's a program of tried and true works; Fancy Free, In the Middle Somewhat Elevated and Theme & Variations. I'm on duty for Ballet Review, and curious to see how Carla Körbes, newly promoted to principal dancer, is doing. And yes, what Peter Boal is up to, but that's a no-win situation for me to write on (if I like it, I'm toadying; if I dislike it, I'm bitter) and why I picked this program because I could legitimately focus on the dancers rather than the direction.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 5:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 24, 2006

Sunday cheap excuse cat blogging

I'm in deadline crunch. Articles for Knit.1 and the DCA newsletter, teaching knitting classes at night and going to Seattle on Friday. Blogging will probably be light, though I will try for some substantive stuff if possible.

But since you only come here for the cat blogging anyway, here is a classic pose from She Who Must Be Petted, Guardian of the Caller ID.


Posted by Leigh Witchel at 10:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 21, 2006

Travel and Priceline Update

I apologize for not posting on this topic for a while, much of the interesting stuff happened in July when I had blog fatigue.

For a few hours on July 11, United Airlines had a fare burp. In trying to match Southwest Airline's sale prices, they inadvertently set round trip prices at the one way fare, so New York to Seattle was as little as $136 including taxes.

I tried to tell people at the time but found the fare was being yanked from united.com even as I was trying to purchase it. Selecting flights, the fare was $136; at the payment page it leaped to $372.

I nearly chalked it up to experience but something told me not to give up so easily. I headed over to Orbitz, then Travelocity. No love for me. Then Expedia. Jackpot. The fare was still there, and I impulsively purchased a weekend in Seattle to see their opening night gala and a flight to Oakland to spend my birthday in San Francisco.

About two hours later when I looked at the calendar and sheepishly realized that I picked the weekend I was to teach entrelac in Long Island to go to Seattle I called Expedia contritely. United allows cancellations without penalty within 24 hours but Expedia adds a $30 administrative fee that I chalked up to experience, and rescheduled for two weeks following.

So I’m traveling quite a bit in the next few weekends. All of it I can blame on either Flyertalk or Fare Compare, the best places to catch wind of short lived sales.

End of September – Seattle. The UA fare burp. "Ooo. I can see Pacific Northwest Ballet." Priceline gave me love as well; Seattle hotel rates dropped for the fall and I got the 3* Renaissance downtown for $65.

Mid October – Portland, Oregon. Caused by AA's mysterious $99 NYC-PDX r/t offered last March. "Ooo. I can see Oregon Ballet Theatre." Priceline is being recalcitrant about Portland. Usually the 3* Doubletree Lloyd Center comes in at below $45. Up until bids of $64/night I was getting straight rejections. Now I am getting “raise your bid by $17 and we’ll let you rebid” so I know I am coming into striking range.

Mid October – San Francisco. Again, the UA fare burp. I have no self control. "Ooo. SF Ballet isn't on. I'm going to San Francisco for my birthday anyway." The routing is odd (I’m going home via LAX), but I’m on United’s P.S. transcontinental service homeward bound, so I upgraded to business class for 15,000 miles as a birthday treat. Little did I realize that my birthday is the beginning of %#^$#% Oracle World, which vacuums up 7000 hotel rooms in the city. I got the Hilton Financial Center for the first two days of my stay for $70, but could get nothing for the last night going up to $115. I have backup reservations at two budget options, the King George Hotel ($119) and the Grant Plaza ($77) – so I will ask local friends to check them out if they go by. If you know anything about either, feel free to comment. An excellent place to make hotel reservations for San Francisco is at HotelRes.com – rates are very competitive and they allow cancellations without penalty.

Mid November – Toronto. Cross-border fares are comparatively expensive – NYC-YYZ is often more than NYC-SFO. American Airlines offers a reduced price award ticket in the winter month; short haul hops of under 750 miles are only 15,000; Canadian destinations (Montreal, Toronto and particularly Halifax) work out to a much better deal than domestic short hauls. “Ooo. I can see National Ballet of Canada's new home at the Four Seasons Opera House.” I stay with my friends John and Chris in Toronto so no Priceline bidding. (John, if you’re reading this entry, can I stay with you?)

Thanksgiving – London. It wasn't in the budget. But then there was the Delta sale inaugurating their JFK-Gatwick route. $304 with taxes included. "Ooo. I can see the Royal Ballet’s triple bill with The Four Temperaments, and new MacGregor and Wheeldon pieces AND see my brother for Thanksgiving." I am so WEAK. Continental matched Delta’s fare, and I was torn between which to take (CO’s flight times were marginally better, but JFK is slightly easier to get to for me than Newark). I had done everything at continental.com but the final purchase details when I realized that my seat assignments were not taking, and instead I was getting a message “seat assignment at gate”. Calling CO, they are not allowing seat assignments to England. I could care less about terrorism. Hijack my plane and blow me up, but blow me up when I am sitting in an aisle seat, preferably when I can bring a bottle of water and @$&^%$! shampoo as carry-on. I explained to the sales rep that I knew it was not her decision, but they had lost a sale because I would not take the risk of being in a middle seat for 7 hours and booked on Delta. I then corrupted the perennially stylish Eve Ng, who wanted to visit her daughter in London but was hesitating until she saw the price. I booked Eve’s hotel for her, the Copthorne Tara in Kensington where I stayed last October; $92/night – I got it last year for $69. Prices on Priceline fluctuate strongly according to demand but there is a trend up as occupancy has improved. I have not yet booked my hotel; I’ll do it after I figure out when I am going to see my family in Bristol.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:17 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 19, 2006

Culture, cheap.

Thanks to Flygirl555 at Flyertalkfor this one.

The Smithsonian Institute is sponsoring a free museum day on September 30 and museums across the country are participating. You can look on an interactive map to see what museums in your area are participating, then print out a card to admit two people for free. So take someone you like to a museum. Culture is good.

If I were in Pasadena, California, you can bet I would be hopping right over to The Bunny Museum.

If September 30 isn’t a good day to go and you’re in NYC, many museums have a period set aside for free admission. For MoMA and the Morgan Library, it’s Friday night. Sunday morning at The Frick Collection is pay what you wish.

I blogged about the Fall for Dance Festival at City Center last year. It’s back and tickets are going fast – October 3 is already sold out. I can’t go to most of it due to schedule conflicts, but there is something for everyone each night. I’d love to finally see Trisha Brown’s Set and Reset, being done the first two nights. So get your tickets before they’re gone.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 5:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 18, 2006

FO and Yarnapalooza

The Bamboo Sweater’s final few ends were darned in Saturday before I taught a class on entrelac at the uncivilized hour of 9 am. Thankfully, the students were not uncivilized at all. I enjoyed the folks at the LI Knitting and Crochet Guild very much and hope they’ll have me back in the future. I had one embarrassing brainfart; I teach workshops from a detailed handout and syllabus but haven’t taught entrelac for a few years. I started to show entrelac in the round and realized I hadn’t joined a round in a while. It took me a few tries to rejigger my brain to show exactly how the stitches needed to be picked up. That information got placed in careful detail in my syllabus, along with notes on what I want to add to the class to develop it.

The next day I braved the chaos of the Knit Out at Union Square. I met the perennially stylish Eve Ng (it’s like “Millionaire Playboy Bruce Wayne” – I can’t write Eve’s name without putting “perennially stylish” in front of it) after a game of Cell Phone Marco Polo.

“I’m at the east end of the Fashion Show. Can you see me?”


I ran into several of my students from yesterday who trekked in from Westbury to be part of the hoopla, and then went to the Soho Publishing Booth to say hello to Leslie Barber and the other staff. Stephanie Pearl and my editor Adina Klein were doing the fashion show with judicious skepticism. Neither of them are all that tall, so when a model swept by in a full length crocheted duster, both immediately asked, “How tall are you?” The model found time to answer – 5’9” – and Steph observed that if she wore it she’d be pleased to have a coat with a train so that she could sweep the floor at the same time. Another model walked past and Steph observed her with a gimlet eye. “I wouldn’t let my 17 year old daughter leave the house in that, eh?”

Eve and I had lunch together, then met Stephanie after her book signing. She seemed a little fried; having been the performing seal at one or two knitting conventions I understood at least a little. She grabbed food and a beer and we headed into the park to illegally picnic on the grass, next to a boy in leather pants and grubby thrift store ties including one of – was it Donald Duck? As he stalked past working his rebellious punkitude, I learned over to Steph’s friend Cassie and whispered, “Don’t tell me, you’re from Wisconsin, right?” Yep, I’m a cranky New Yorker.

Cassie said she needed to meet Joe at 4 pm at a statue behind the main stage of the Knit Out, and to memorialize the Bamboo Sweater, before it went away to the folks at Vogue Knitting for a year, Eve took a picture of me in it.


I loathe almost all pictures of me, but I look slightly less like the love child of Queen Victoria and Richard Milhous Nixon here, though no less constipated than usual. I'd also like to mention what a joy it is to wear that sweater in 80 degree weather. Ecch. I took it off immediately. If I made it again, I'd shorten the sleeves about half an inch and set the neck slightly higher - I began it about 4 ins. from the shoulders - I'd raise it 1/2 to 1 inch. (I'd also consider making it in Aurora 8 instead of Aurora Bulky to make it lighter and more affordable, but don't tell anyone.)

After handing off the sweater and I met the associate and tech editors and got to know the Soho Publishing folks a little better. Be nice to the tech editor, unless you want your pattern to have three backs and four sleeves. Michelle, the associate editor, and I discussed sock yarn, a topic knitters are about as fond of as the British are of discussing the weather. When in doubt or at a loss for polite conversation, discuss sock yarn. She’s currently working in Trekking; I’m making my usual Twin Rib socks for my sister in law in old Brown Sheep Wildfoote I want to see out of my stash.

Eve went home and I bumped into Steph and Cassie again. I asked Cassie if she met her husband yet, assuming that was Joe – Steph’s husband is also named Joe, which is what brought about that assumption. Whoops. Joe was Jo, Cassie’s friend from Canada. After about 30 minutes of talking, Jo and I formally introduced each other and we immediately realized, laughing, that we had known each other from another knit list for several years. Cassie brought us on a short walk to Stuyvesant Square – a lovely little pleasure since I had never seen it before and we sat and knit for a few minutes before Jo had to leave for the airport.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 2:06 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 17, 2006

New Ballet Choreography at the Miller Theatre

I’m off duty, so this hasn’t gone through a several drafts and polishings, but for the record – here it is.

Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, directed by George Steel, and Mary Sharp Cronson’s Works and Process presented three choreographers, Tom Gold, Edwaard Liang and Brian Reeder in an evening of new ballet. Liang’s work is the only one I’ve seen before.

Gold did a work to songs by John Zorn played live by the Masada trio. The live music all evening was a wonderful hallmark, and something I’m sure both co-producers of the evening are known for and proud of. Masada Songs was most remarkable for bringing Ashley Bouder back to the stage after an injury as well as having four more NYCB golden girls in the cast. Surrounding Bouder with Sterling Hyltin, Tiler Peck, Ana Sophia Scheller and Georgina Pazcoguin is an embarrassment of riches.

The work itself didn’t live up to the cast. Gold doesn’t list any other choreography in his bio so I assume it isn’t his main focus. He doesn’t think like a choreographer; there were things that should have been learned and hammered out before having an audience see your work. His choreographic sense isn’t sharp – it equates Jewish songs with indeterminate Oriental head waggling that Edward Said would have been thrilled to see at Columbia. The work also showed a hidden trap for inexperienced choreographers: Don’t work with dancers better than your ideas. Instead of forcing you to confront and fix them, they will make them work somehow.

Liang did two small pas de deux, one for Maria Kowroski and Albert Evans to Phillip Glass and the second for Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall. The first work, Softly as I speak, worked as a vehicle for Kowroski to show how far she has come in focusing her artistry. The music for the second work, Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina, was only recently used by Christopher Wheeldon in Quaternary, his piece for SFB, and that seems applicable to the familiarity of the choreography as well. In both dimly lit pieces, the dancers were the usual couple contorting and groping towards understanding. At this point, Liang is making generic Modern Ballet Pas de Deux and he hasn’t yet found the thing that will separate him from the other trees in the forest. His musicianship won’t help; for an evening of New Ballets to New Music, choosing Glass and Pärt is about as far inside the comfort zone as possible. One got the sense that Steel, who called the evening as jovially as possible “New Ballets to New-ish Music” in his curtain speech knew this too. Perhaps Steel needs to start exercising some curatorial imperative instead of allowing mass market music choices in a musical season that’s otherwise built on artistic daring.

Reeder is the most experienced choreographer and it shows in his facility with phrasing and craft. He also worked well with unfamiliar music, a Jefferson Friedman’s String Quartet No. 2. Friedman is a young composer and his quartet was interesting and listenable. It seemed as if it was not composed with dance in mind, but Reeder rose well to that challenge. Them had a hint of a plot involving the interactions of an outsider (Joseph Gorak) against a group. For every ballet, there seems to be a balance of narrative and abstraction that is the right one; Them seemed to be uncomfortably stuck in a place where it wanted either to be more abstract and have the narrative allusions edited out or to have less abstracted dance and concentrate on telling the story. Because of this, the ballet wasn’t as affecting as it could have been, but I’d like to see more of Reeder’s works. I would not be surprised if a future ballet gets that balance just right. Reeder’s dancers, members of the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company, are less professionally advanced than the other dancers in the evening but showed no less promise. The men (Gorak, Roddy Doble, Thomas Forster and Eric Tamm) all have the sort of pulled out proportions and legs that seem only possible in the young.

As a dance house, the Miller isn’t a perfect fit. The sightlines from the audience aren’t good (I was only four rows back and my view was blocked by people in front of me) and the stage doesn’t breathe. The low proscenium pens in Kowroski, a dancer with opera house proportions, and leaves too little air and space around her. But as with the other less than perfect houses for dance in the city, thanks to them for making the effort at all. The Miller is primarily a music house; Steel’s specialty is new music and overlooked music from other eras and he’s made a name for himself as a discerning curator. It will be exciting to see the dance curation achieve the same level.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 15, 2006

Leigh's Dance (and Knitting) Card

The dance season is starting again for me -

Tonight I'm going to see the program of new choreography at the Miller Theatre. I'm not on duty with this one (my friend Aleba is doing the PR and I assisted slightly with that, so I'm happy to avoid yet another conflict of interest)

I'm teaching a workshop on entrelac tomorrow at the Long Island Knitting and Crochet Guild's "Day of Learning". I've got a love-hate relationship with the technique; you can make some gorgeous mosaic-like effects with it, but it's incredibly fiddly. I do it once every several years after I've forgotten just how tedious it was the last time I did it.

On Sunday, I'll be at the New York Knit Out, a chaotic yarnapalooza in Union Square. When I'm not overwhelmed by the crowd and hiding in a corner, it's a lot of fun and I get to see a few people I only see a couple of times a year.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 4:13 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 12, 2006

Bus(t) Knitting


This odd looking neon bustier is actually an Amelia Earhart cap, shown flat before the back seam (the "bustline") is sewn - in this case, grafted, but one could just sew or do a three needle bind-off.

As knitting patterns go, this one is extremely knitterly. The triple lobes that form the earflaps and head cover are created by shortrowing; the complex ridged swirls are nothing more than k2, p2 rib done in a spiral by moving it over one stitch every two rows. The hat looks incredibly hard but once it’s set up it’s really simple.

Flor’s original pattern calls for sport or worsted weight wool; I made this in Lion Brand Microfiber, which is DK weight so increased stitch and row counts on the fly by about 20%. Even with more stitches I was able to knit the whole hat on the bus ride to and from Boston, except for the cast on and about four rows I had knit a few days before to get the project ready for taking on the bus with a minimum of fussing. It’s a great travel project – there's a picture of a finished cap and more tips on knitting one here.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 9:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 11, 2006

A Day in Boston

I made a grand fraternal gesture yesterday. My brother flew in from the UK for a conference in Boston. He didn’t know the city, nor knew anyone there and he had two days to kill before the conference began, so I took an early bus up to Boston to spend the day with him.

Though it meant getting up obscenely early (for me, at least) on a Sunday, I had a great time. The 9:00 am bus was only about 30% full and got to Boston half an hour before scheduled arrival at 1:20. My brother was staying at the Hyatt Financial Center gotten (of course) via Priceline. Boston tends to be a very tight hotel market; I did the last minute bidding for moving upwards from $85. I had seen previously accepted bids at $120, but I got to $120 only to be rejected. With only two bidding opportunities left after free rebidding and no time to wait for a clean slate to re-bid, I raised to $130 and got the room for him.

The hotel is only a few blocks from Chinatown; I dragged Harry on the inevitable pilgrimage to New Saigon Sandwich, where I got a chicken teriyaki banh mi. He got roasted chicken and noodles and summer rolls; we took it all to eat in the Public Gardens by the swan boats.


After our impromptu picnic, I took him on a mini-tour of Boston.


First stop, my favorite church in Boston, Trinity Church. On Sunday entrance requires a tour, so we did not take the time. I stopped for nostalgia’s sake at 669 Boylston Street. The top floor was Marie Paquet’s studio, where I studied ballet in 1983-4 before I moved back to New York City. As time goes on, Boston is more and more like a room that I recognize, but someone’s moved all the furniture around. The entry at 669 no longer leads to the rest of the building; it’s only for the Aveda salon downstairs. From there, across Exeter Street and down Commonwealth Avenue, across Hereford Street past Marlborough and Beacon Streets, then over to the Charles River. We walked up the banks of the river, watching sailboats race and a particularly aggressive flock of geese worry some fallen apples and each other.

We left the river at the Hatch bandshell and walked up Beacon Hill. I know Back Bay very well from my years in school and immediately after – I went into Marie’s studio daily – but almost never had a reason to go to Beacon Hill. At first I thought the lamps had been refitted to electricity but on closer inspection I think they are still gas.


Coming back to Beacon Street, we walked past the gold-domed state house, and found our way back to the hotel. After a brief shopping excursion (what anyone who lives in the UK does when they visit the US) we went for decent Thai food at Montien Thai – right around the corner from Saigon Sandwich on Kneeland Street.

From there, he accompanied me to the bus station (a walk of only a few blocks) and I got on the 8 p.m. bus. It was packed full – I didn’t expect anything less from the next-to-last bus on a Sunday night, but the traffic was even better; we were at the gate of the Port Authority by 11:30 pm. The bus ride was slightly longer than the visit – I spent just under eight hours on the road – but it was profitably spent. I managed to knit a cap in DK weight yarn in its entirety.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 8, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging - Striped Blob Edition

Ladies and Gentlemen, Meat Loaf.


Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:02 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 7, 2006

Pictures at an Exhibition (III)

Walking on Sunday morning before a matinee.


The Mariinsky.

I did try to take pictures of the interior at intermission, they came out predictably awful. There's a panoramic view of the theater at the Mariinsky's own site. It's more gold in that photo than I recall it - my impression (particularly because of the draperies and the ceiling that one can only see around the edges of the panorama) is overwhelmingly pale blue.

St. Nicholas' Cathedral (a naval church) is down the street about two blocks from the Mariinsky.



Monday - walking with Nico


Palace square, looking towards St. Isaac's. A bit of the golden spire of the Admiralty can be seen at the far right.


Shock and awe in architecture. The Winter Palace. It's even bigger than it seems as this is only the facade on Palace Square. The building has an interior courtyard and another equally large wing facing the Neva. It's over 1000 rooms and presently houses a portion of the Hermitage collection.

A canal with a connecting bridge above (I believe this may be from the "little" Hermitage to the "old" Hermitage.


Monday: The walk back to the hotel after Swan Lake at the Mariinsky. 10:15 pm, light rain.


The Moika, looking eastward. The westward view from the same spot is here.


A side street off the Moika.


Crossing a bridge over the Moika, looking at the Yussupov Palace.


Moika 58 - one of the few Soviet style buildings I saw in the center of the city. Note the hammer and sickle over the portal.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 10:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 6, 2006

Kschessinska's memoirs

I’ve actually finished a book recently. This is more of an accomplishment than it sounds, since college, especially since I took up knitting because no matter what I try I cannot knit and read at the same time, I feel like I’ve become a functional illiterate.

But in dribs and drabs I managed to finish Mathilde Kschessinska’s memoirs, Dancing in Petersburg. Kschessinka was a prima ballerina assoluta (one of the few who legitimately held the title) of the Mariinsky Theater and also the lover of Tsar Nicholas II . . . as well as several of his relations, eventually marrying his cousin, the Grand Duke André.

It’s a juicy story and she lived in, as the Chinese say, interesting times, but her memoirs are even more fascinating as a study in narrative voice than they are as history. Kschessinska is decidedly selective about what she tells the reader and even as she tells an incident you’re aware that facts are being left out. She was ebullient, scheming, self-justifying, talented, affectionate, beautiful, formidable and a survivor. A cuddly monster.

The book gives a vivid picture of court and theater life at St. Petersburg before WWI and the Russian Revolution. Her stories about her run-ins with theater management or her ambivalent relationship with Pavlova are fascinating – especially the way Kschessinska tries to gloss over the fights. Beyond her servants, Kschessinska is blissfully unaware (or unconcerned) with the life of the working class in Russia and the forces that impelled social upheaval, but their invisibility to her tells you something as well. I wish she had written more about the ballets she danced, but like many great dancers she only seems to know them from the perspective of her own performance; the accolades - and the presents - she received.

She wrote her memoirs in the 1950s and died in 1971 just shy of her 100th birthday. Close to the end of the book she becomes briefly philosophical.

Nijinsky’s memory leads me to an analysis of what separates us from the new generations. Modern dancers, I am happy to say, greatly surpass their predecessors in technique. It is only natural that technique should advance. But few of these dancers are comparable with Rosita Mauri, Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Vera Trefilova, Olga Preobrajenska, Olga Spessivtseva. Their acting is not as powerful as that of the ballerinas of old.

. . .

Today’s dancers, ready to sacrifice everything on the altar of a frenzied technique, seem to forget that virtuosity without soul is dead art. Their technique is so extraordinary that one wonders how they achieved such results; but these feats leave us cold and cannot give the spectator the least feeling or emotion.

(Kschessinska Memoirs p. 266)

Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose.

Kschessinska is probably comparing dancers from an extremely strong period in the Mariinsky’s history to dancers from a fallow period at the Paris Opera, which could be part of the complaint. There is also a human tendency to believe in deterioration. Part of what we see as deterioration is a shift in cultural expectations and cues. In correspondence I had with Bob Gottlieb, who’s been watching dance in New York a good three decades more than I, he described a dancer as uninteresting and cold. I found that dancer warm and fascinating; there was a gulf in perception that was more than just taste. The cues he learned that say “fascinating” to him are different than the ones I learned and that the cues and standards of people twenty years younger than me are already different as well. Gottlieb’s standards aren’t incorrect, nor are mine. But I’m already seeing the same gulf after only two decades and I imagine it will only get more pronounced when I’m older and complaining that they don’t make ‘em like Darci Kistler anymore.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 12:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 5, 2006

Home Stretch (II)

I'm fascinated by the home stretch of creation. Whether it's knitting, choreography or cooking, that's the point at which unknown variables make themselves known. There are things that just aren't apparent until the thing is put together, no matter how much you chart the pieces or do the dance in the studio or read the recipe. How will the garment drape on a body - will the audience laugh at that spot - is this dessert going to be too heavy for the entree? You can anticipate all you want; you often don't know until the sweater is put together or the audience is there or the meal is served.

I'm at that point now with the Bamboo Sweater.


Basting threads are removed, pieces laid flat and the shoulders bound off together using a three needle bind off. The pattern, for standardization, will say to bind off the piece and sew the shoulder seams. If you're making the sweater, do the one you think is firmest - you might consider a backstitch here.


Close up of the shoulder seam. The corded ribbing and bamboo columns don't match at the shoulders. It's barely noticeable when wearing, but I've corrected the pattern to center and match the columns.


Sleeves set in.


Sides seams sewn, on to the sleeves. It takes shape. The factors coming to the fore are the sweater's weight (more than three pounds), thickness, and relatively close fit.

The neckline - a stand up collar in the baby cable pattern at the borders is next, then working in all the ends. Et fini.

As an antidote to a month of solid gray knitting, I cast on this to knit while walking.


It's a scarf in Plymouth Yarn's "Parrot". The colors are even more deliciously garish than in the picture, think saris on crack. It's mindless, blindingly fast knitting in plain garter stitch on US 15 needles and soothes my Inner Carmen Miranda.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:12 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 4, 2006

A Potpourri of Nether Garments

Click me.

No, click me!

No, I insist, click ME!

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:22 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 3, 2006

Home Stretch (I)



I've knit all the pieces of the sweater, and basted them together to check fit. Stitches are live, needles still in it; I've bound off nothing in case length needed to be added or subtracted. I'm knitting to the measurements of previous sweaters that fit me, so neither seems necessary.

Confession: If you knit the pattern of the sweater as it will be in Vogue Knitting, you will not knit this sweater. You will knit a better one, by and large. Things I didn't do in the knitted prototype (like centering the rib pattern so columns match at the shoulder) will be corrected in the pattern. Other things I will change for simplicity - I stepped the neckhole very slightly (one row) in the prototype. I'm going to make the neckhole square in the pattern.

Other observations. The yarn is heavy - it's taking every ball of yarn they gave me (29) to make a man's size L sweater. I'm hoping the twist stitch columns will help it hold its shape against the weight of the yarn. The yarn also feels delicious - soft like fur. Because of the ribbing, the sweater hugs the body with relatively little ease. It's going to look best on people who are slender.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:38 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 2, 2006

Eye of the beholder

Last night, I was heading home after dinner with my friend Andrea, a classmate from ballet days and class with the formidable Madame Darvash. Can’t recall the name of the restaurant, the credit card receipt only lists them as “Vietnamese Food”, but it’s at 121 University Place. Excellent Bo Luc Lac, reasonable prices, but it was a busy Friday night and the waiters practically grabbed plates away from you the moment you didn’t seem to be finishing it and cleaned the table up around you.

On the subway ride back, I was working on the last sleeve of the Bamboo sweater. The car was relatively empty at West 4th, and filled a bit with each subsequent stops. Two twenty-something guys sat next to me at West 14th. A man got on at 34th. He looked as if he had come from a fantasy equestrian event; thigh high leather boots over khaki pants, blue blazer, green walking stick, straw hat with what looked like Christmas ornaments decorating the brim.

I’m thinking, “Work the outfit!” I notice one of the twenty something kids stealing glances at him too. My guess is we’re both thinking the guy is a bit of a New York character – a freak. I think about this for a moment. I’m sitting here like the screaming faggot I am knitting on the subway and the boy next to me has a ring through his nose. And we’re all over the equestrian freak across the car?

The moral of this subway story is either: Scratch a normal person and there’s a freak underneath, or scratch a freak and there’s a normal person.

You pick.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 12:36 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack