Monday 24 December 2012

The Nutcracker; a New York rite of passage

The Nutcracker is a huge Christmas tradition in New York; everybody seems to go, and it is as much as a rite of passage to take your kids for the first time as it is to take them to Disneyworld for a long weekend (de rigeur when they reach the age of about five).  We decided that for what will probably be our last Christmas here, we should splurge and see the most famous production of all, the George Balanchine-choreographed version, performed by New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center.

So we headed into Manhattan last night, The Doctor and Littleboy 1 bright and bouncy, myself (dosed up with painkillers) and Littleboy 2 (who had come down with a cold and temperature in the morning) slightly less bright and bouncy. Ten minutes into the opening act, Littleboy 2 fell asleep and remained so until the interval - a bit of a shame when you've spent hundreds of dollars on the trip, but at least he saw Act 2.

I've never seen The Nutcracker before, although of course the Tchaikovsky score is incredibly well-known- the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Waltz of the Flowers etc. By chance we had found the story the night before in a book of Christmas stories and read it to the boys, so we were all familiar with the story.

What I hadn't appreciated was the enchanting aspect of the first Act - that it features lots of tiny children, dancing quite beautifully. Littleboy 1 was fascinated by seeing the children on stage performing, and was thrilled by the huge Christmas tree (the set, and production values, were incredibly impressive). I was just amazed that a girl who appeared to be about six could dance on pointes (although I shudder to think of what she's doing to her feet for later life), and impressed by the boy dancing Fritz, the brother, who also appeared to be very young. The idea of the Nutrcracker coming alive and transforming into a handsome prince is going to be one that appeals to all children, and Littleboy 1 was no exception.

The second Act is all about costumes, and scenery and balletic set-pieces - the boys were less fascinated by that, although the adults could indulge in enjoying all of the above. From the deep purple tutus of the flowers to the striped candy canes, I don't think I've ever seen such magnificent costumes on a stage - New York sure does know how to do things well.

I believe The Nutcracker is becoming more popular in the UK these days - maybe as a result of all the Americans in London? - and I don't know if those productions are any good. But for anyone visiting NYC at Christmas with children, I would say the Lincoln Center show is well worth the rather extortionate price.

As for us, by the time we took the train back and rolled up at home at 8.30PM, with two boys almost asleep, and one definitely running a fever, we were all exhausted. But I was pleased to see that Littleboy 1(who is incredibly excited about Christmas) wanted The Nutcracker again for his bedtime story. Some of the magic had definitely rubbed off.

Merry Christmas to everyone.

Monday 17 December 2012

It couldn't happen here.

So here I am, breaking the radio silence. It's been a while. Some of you have probably guessed that things haven't been good with me. The sciatica triggered a serious episode of anxiety and depression, which I am now trying to tackle, and while I am not out of the woods yet, I've been ordered by The Doctor to write a blog post before everyone thinks I've dropped off the face of the earth. (I don't want to go into all the details, so if you want to know how I am, you can email me separately).

I wanted to write about the appalling events in Connecticut, in a town that sounds similar to ours - affluent, picturesque, the kind of place where "those kind of things don't happen." I actually remember a local mother here talking about mass shootings once, and she even said she thought it would never happen in this town. "Why not?" I asked. "All you need is one weird loner with access to a gun, and it could happen anywhere."

What happened is just beyond belief, and while I don't want to dwell on the details, I want to record the effects on our own community. Everyone is shocked, scared and feeling just a little apprehensive as we send off our children to school in the morning. Emails are flying around - guidelines from the school district on how to talk to our children about this tragedy, questions from local mothers asking which schools have video surveillance, reassurances from the schools about security. When I picked up the boys from school on Friday, there was a police car in the car park. Everyone seems unsettled, and naturally, devastated for the community in Newtown, Connecticut.

But the reality is, nothing has changed. It is no more dangerous sending our children to school this week than last. Statistically speaking, our children are more likely to get run over by a car than attacked at school. While everyone is now calling for gun laws to be changed, what's the betting that in the end America does nothing about this? After all, it has happened so many times before, and in the end the gun lobby wins out. (Even now, we are hearing people calling for teachers to be armed. I mean, WTF?).

The fact remains that it is too easy to get hold of a gun in the US. I'd like to think that in other countries (including the UK), a young loner with serious mental health problems but no criminal connections would have found it much harder to get hold of a weapon. Yes, there will always be people who will find a way to commit these acts. But surely there are ways to stop it happening so frequently.

There are many things I love about America. I love our boys' school, and the fact that everyone in this town goes to the same high school, a good school, not private. But at this moment, I am relieved that they won't be continuing their education there. There is just no way of saying "it couldn't happen here".