Tuesday, January 01, 2002

Scenes from a New Year's Eve:

Boston Common

It's early in the evening, the "Family Fireworks" show. In the middle of a crowd in a public park, technicians are launching rockets tipped with explosives. Not just the standard flares --- some of them gyrate wildly, and must be going over the heads of the spectators. Thick smoke is blowing around the kinetic art and the ice sculptures; the whole place smells like gunpowder. On my way somewhere else, I pause for a minute to look at the show. I'm thinking, could there be a more perfect setup for a terrorist? The crowd loves it.

The Orpheum Theater

The Boston Symphony Orchestra debuted here in 1881. Now, it's a magnificent, waning relic --- marble columns and railings in the lobbies, an immense fading mural above the stage, lovely cast iron banisters obscured in places by gratuitous sheetrock, and intricate plasterwork all over which seems, in places, to have fallen off the walls. But every time I come here, it looks a little better. Either someone is restoring the place in slow motion, or I'm just getting used to it.

The band is Hybrasil, playing Irish-flavored rock, with Dana Colley from Morphine sitting in on sax. Christian McNeil is singing. Maybe it's an elegy to his last band, Schtum.

We could be replaced
All this place replaced
Someone flips a switch
Someone drops a stitch
All this could be replaced

St. Paul's Cathedral

There's a recital of traditional Chinese music here, on lute, flute, strings, percussion, and a kind of hand-held miniature pipe organ the likes of which I've never seen before. The men are in suits, looking slightly awkward; the women, in something more like traditional Chinese dresses, look a lot more comfortable. They cover a lot of ground, from folk tunes to what's described as the "popcorn music" that's played before a Chinese opera performance. (The popcorn itself translates into Chinese as dried plums). They're magnificent. They get a standing ovation.

The performance is in the chapel, where Christmas decorations are still up --- there's a small creche in the corner, and pine garlands hanging from the ceiling. When coming and going from the stage, the singer, who is announcing the music, steps around the creche and the pulpit.

Welcome to America.


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