29 Sep

29 Sept 2015 – Super General Assembly!

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2015-09-27 19.31.12

Super, Blood, & Harvest Moon just waiting to be eclipsed.

The super, blood, and harvest moon has come, been eclipsed and gone. And, coincidentally this year, so has the UN General Assembly, which was also supercharged this year. More so than I can remember in past years, and so much so that I might even go out on a limb and call it a super, blood, and harvest UN General Assembly year, only to be repeated ever 30 or so years. Ok, I exaggerate (probably on account of the fact that I just finished Bossypants by Tina Fey today and I have just this little desire to be as funny as she is). But this year still carried extra weight with the Pope making an appearance and then a big deal seemed to be made of President Obama’s speech followed by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech and then their agree not to agree meeting that followed.

Ok – let me be clear. The only reason I am talking so much about the UN General Assembly is because it intrudes upon my life every September since I live half a block away from the UN complex and every September for three days I have to show an ID to walk down my street to my apartment and undress and get into bed.

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Hard to see, but believe me, it is hard to walk down my block to my apartment during the UNGA!

Tons of barricades and policeman descend on my neighborhood, as well as hoards of people with lanyards and cameras looking very important and also waiting to show IDs to walk down my street, the only difference being that they only come here once a year and walk over to the UN whereas I live here. And because of this (yes, I will admit this now) I feel a little superior. I may not be a world-traveled journalist or an important country VIP with a special pass to the UNGA, but I am a bona fide New Yorker who resides on 46th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, half a block away from the UN. I have a right to be here!

But…let’s be honest. If I were living only 5 block north or west or south (not East because then I would be in the East River) I would have no care for the UNGA because it would not impinge on my lifestyle at all. Somehow due to random luck and chance, I ended up on this block. And so here I am, every September, forced to contemplate the UNGA, simply because I must remember to bring ID to enter my street to go home. It is a gentle reminder every year that life is an odd combination of your own making coming into contact with lives of other people’s makings. It is not a bad thing. In fact, it is quite good. Random encounters of our pre-planned lives with other unknown pre-planned lives are what move us out of our expected trajectory and propel us into a new direction. Change is sometimes not welcome, but change, ultimately, is a good thing. We must adjust and adapt or risk being left behind.

Today was a tough day at work. Letting someone go, even if it is completely justified performance-wise, it is never easy to do. I wanted to go run during lunch to get everything out of my mind and come back with a clean slate. But I bagged it all. As I was getting ready to go run, I realized I had too much work to do. Also I told myself that I this is my off-season, so it’s ok to back down to one workout a day! (Oh! I know how idiotic that sounds!) But it’s true. Sometimes I have to tell myself to back off from the workouts. And that’s what I did today. And that’s what I will continue to do until the new year. And that is good for me. This is a time of finding balance and moderation. Next year as I gear up for the next swimming season, there will be plenty of times to do double-workouts!

And also, I have been tired from my idiotic sleeping schedule, so I was also physically tired from having gone to bed at 11p, and then woken up at 12:30a, 2a, 3:10a, 4:05a, and then finally with the alarm at 5:30a. Needless to say, after the day and the highly interrupted sleep, I was also ready to bag the swim workout after work. But I had promised Andrey, my trusted swim partner in NYC, to swim tonight. So that was that. Even though I wanted to completely flake out, I went. And in the process, I ran into Patrick, my old swim coach on the subway. What I nice surprise! (Or maybe coincidence?) Horrible subway system and delays aside. It was great to catch up with him.

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Andey & I – after finishing a good workout!

I got up to the pool deck at 6:34 and managed to jump in at 6:40p. Andrey was actually early at 6:50p. I had hoped to get at least 1,600 before he arrived, but I was only at 800 when I saw him stroll out on deck. I was having a terrible time in the lane. The age groupers were doing stroke and they were kicking up quite a wave. And then the fast lane was populated with wanna-be fast swimmers who had some idea of lane etiquette, but nevertheless were still reeking havoc with my workout. When Andrey finally showed up, I told him I was done!

Of course I wasn’t. He got in. Warmed up. Then we started on our no-breathers. Another thing I would never do on my own. So tonight is a thanks to Andrey for getting me to the pool and getting me to do eight no-breather underwaters! And yes, tonight is a thanks the UNGA for keeping me abreast of public and world affairs! And a thanks to the super, blood, and harvest moon for providing a beautiful image to experience without any thought. No thought, just emotion.

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Super, blood, and harvest moon just about eclipsed…

Tonight’s workout. Warm-up was 400 free, 400 pull, 400 kick. (Andrey showed up after my 400 pull). Then it was 2x (4x [25 no-breathers, 25 easy on 1:00], 200 breathe every 5 strokes). Then we stopped and kvetched about the lane swimmers, especially the obnoxious one who seemed determined to sit at the end of lane and only go on the heels of someone else. Andrey and I had a good laugh about that. And then I suggested 4×125: 75 stroke or IM/50 free. That would get us another 500. With a 200 warm-down, that would get me to 2,700 and Andrey to 2,000. Not a bad workout for two somewhat reluctant swim partners, neither of whom had wanted to go to the pool at all.

22 Sep

The Autumnal Equinox

by Erica L. Moffett

Today is the Autumnal Equinox. I only know about this because the Writer’s Almanac reported that “today marks the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, the first day of fall and the point in which the Sun is directly above the equator and the hours of day and night are nearly equal. In the Southern Hemisphere, today marks the vernal equinox, the first day of spring.”

So first I have to say to all my friends in the Southern Hemisphere (John, Otto, Lewis, Herda, Adrian, Ryan…), Happy Spring!! I am jealous already!

I learned later that today is technically not the Autumnal Equinox. I went out for drinks with my boss after work and told him that we should toast to the Autumnal Equinox. But he corrected me. “The autumnal equinox actually occurs at 4:22a this morning,” he said. “So officially today is not the Autumnal Equinox…” Normally I am a detail-oriented person, but I decided that I would let this one slide.

Perhaps the most distressing thing to me about autumn and the quickening of days and the chilling of temperature is the uncomfortable feet. Today it was 58 degrees when I woke up. I got dressed. I put on my open-toed, broad-footed summer sandals. Then I thought better of it. I took them off and looked around my closet for appropriate shoes for the Autumnal Equinox. All that faced me were 2 3/4-inch grey and black-heeled pumps and boots. Very nice (and somewhat costly I might add!) grey and black-heeled pumps and boots. Unfortunately all of which smushed my forefeet and caused great bouts of pain while walking in them.

“No! I thought. “It can’t already be here! That’s not fair.”

Alas, it was already here. Back in NY (not Florida), pushing my foot down into an alien shoe that had no care whether my foot was comfortable.  And believe me, my foot was not comfortable. The nerve ending that had been aggravated several years ago when I had trained for and completed two and a half marathons in two weeks suddenly came back. The shoes were too tight. My soles couldn’t breathe. And moreover, they didn’t even match my outfit. So on top of incredible foot discomfort, I didn’t even get the benefit of feeling dressed to the nines! Instead it was a nonchalant blasé feeling that pervaded. “Not exactly,” I thought, “the way I want to start off the Autumnal Equinox!”  

But there I was. Shoes or no. Autumnal equinox and all. The sun and moon would move forward (or rather around). I could choose to move forward with them. I could perhaps decide not to move forward with them at all. But that was an absurd thought. The sun and moon and stars would move forward regardless of whether I was ready or not.

So then the question was whether I would go willingly or unwillingly. Would I choose to be swept up and away into their larger cosmic rhythms or would I choose to stay and stand stubbornly here on earth, mired in an uncomfortable shoe debate?

I looked wistfully at my beautiful, beloved open-toed wide-soled sandals. I smushed my feet into those autumnal shoes and gingerly stepped forward into the world. Oh! Pain in the foot there is!

Oh! Pain in the foot be gone! Spring Equinox!

Save me as quickly as you can!

18 Sep

Review: Everest: At the Top of the World & Yet…Still Left Wanting

Movie Review: Everest

At the Top of the World & Yet…Still Left Wanting

Just back from seeing the movie Everest (yes, back from the movie, not from climbing the mountain itself!), and I want so much to report that it was a great movie. Alas…

It pains me to say that it is not a great movie. Because I was really really wanting it to be a great one. And it’s not that there aren’t great things about it. In fact, the IMAX/3D experience happened to be one of the best 3D movies I’ve seen. In my previous 3D movie ventures, the glasses have been bothersome and the 3D seemed caught somewhere between 2D and 3D so that the special effects were ultimately more distracting than enhancing. No such thing in this movie. The picture was as sharp as reality and the foreground and background were so entirely natural that I felt as if I were there (versus in a movie theater seat with some terrifying digitally manufactured animal suddenly emerging out of the background into the foreground and onto my lap). No, this was majestic, mountainous grandeur at its best. I heard that most of the movie was filmed in the Dolomites, certainly not a mountain range to sneeze at, and here the movie makers certainly made you feel as if you were in the very high foothills of Mount Everest, beginning with base camp at some 17,000 feet above sea level and then at all four camps along the way to the summit at 29,029 feet (some 5,000 feet short of cruising altitude of the Boeing 787). So first point in favor of the movie: the scenery. But then again, this is a movie called Everest. If you are going to create and title a movie Everest, that’s just a given. In fact, that’s just the entry level ticket price.

What next then? Acting, for sure. An all-star cast of characters including Josh Brolin, who plays a great Beck Weathers; Jake Gyllenhaal who does an absolutely wonderful job portraying Scott Fisher’s “Hey man” personality, and Jason Clarke who does an equally good job at playing Rob Hall and showing exactly how opposite in style he is to Gyllenhaal’s Fisher. For clarification purposes, Rob Hall was the expert mountaineer who had summited Everest five times previously (the most ever at that time for a non-Sherpa) and then opened up his own company to guide people to the summit. Scott Fisher, another acknowledged great mountaineer, but was also a friendly rival of Rob Hall in competing for clients to guide up Everest. Beck Weathers, a stereotypical outspoken Texas doctor, was Rob Hall’s client.

Yes, the movie is based on a true story and there have been multiple accounts written about that ill-fated 1996 climbing season. The most well-known and commercial account was Jon Krakaeur’s book, Into Thin Air, published within a year after the tragedy. In addition, David Brashears, acclaimed mountaineer and  filmmaker was on the mountain that year with his team, filming for an IMAX movie which was released in 1988. Anatoli Boukreev, the lead guide for Scott Fisher’s company, later published his own memoir of the tragedy, countering some of the criticism that had been leveled at him in Krakaeur’s account. Beck Weathers, who was reported dead (and his wife and children were actually informed of that), somehow under miraculous or amazing odds managed to survive a night in the snow and then with frostbitten feet and hands, walk down to Camp 2, stunning everyone there including Jon Krakaeur who had in some accounts, left him for dead in order to save his own life.

But that gets away from the actual movie. Or does it? The movie is supposed to portray the events of what happened. And in the space of two hours it generally does that. In a nutshell, we see how that season was set up for disaster because the guiding business to the top of Everest had blossomed and there were numerous guide companies at base camp that year, with clients who were paying a lot of money to get up that mountain. That was the primary issue, and the issue from which all other issues stemmed: too many people trying to get up to the summit within a very narrow band of opportune time; the inter-guide company negotiations (or lack thereof) about who could take their clients to the summit and when; and also the very practical need to secure ropes and place oxygen tanks all before any guide company could take their clients to the summit.

The movie portrays all of that. And it is convincing in its detail of the mountaineering, the cold, the precipices, the labored movements and misjudgments that occur when breathing very thin air at twenty-plus thousand feet. The problem with the movie is in what it doesn’t portray: a good story that gets you invested in the plot and the characters.

This isn’t for lack of plot, which at its most basic is a group of people, gathered at the base of one of the most dangerous mountains in the world, who try to summit the mountain and get down safely before anything happens to them. Will they get to the top? Will they get down safely? If they don’t, why don’t they? And once they get down, what happens to them?

In this case, the screenwriters stuck so closely to the script that they portrayed reality to the tee. And in doing so, they took all the story out of it (and I admit that it is completely ironic that I am complaining about adhering to reality since I am usually the one complaining about embellishment in book to movie conversions!). But in this case, I wish they had searched for some additional angles to enliven the real, and what could have been, very dramatic story line. Instead we have a beautiful movie without a point, partly because they took a bird’s eye view and never came down deeply enough into one or two stories that would have made it both real as well as compelling.

Now, not to be stingy, the movie did try to incorporate story lines. The first major one was Rob Hall and his pregnant wife (also a climber and knew exactly what would happen what Rob Hall’s fate was their last conversation). The second was Beck Weathers and the relationship to his wife and children back in Texas. But neither of those stories takes wing. This in spite of Keira Knightly and Robin Wright desperately wanting another moment with their husbands on screen.

And so, what we are left with is a beautiful movie, a beautiful mountain, and a lot of dead and devastated people at the end. Wow! That sounds like it could have been the summary of a Shakespearean play, and indeed one wonders what the bard would have done with that story. William Nicholson and Simon Beauty wrote the screenplay; Baltasar Kormakur directed the movie. Everyone here has done yeoman’s work with this movie, but unfortunately one leaves the theater wishing for a little more bard.

In his poem Sunday Morning, Wallace Stevens says, “Death is the mother of beauty.” Everest (both the movie and the mountain) are a great reminder of the truth of that statement. It doesn’t matter whether you are a mountaineer in search of that beauty or a filmmaker seeking to capture that beauty. Everest will attract and, in the end, death will have us all.

12 Sep

Weepy at the U.S. Open Finals…

I have just finished watching the 2015 U.S. Open Women’s Championship match and I am hunting around the apartment for tissues because I am just a little bit weepy. Weepy for the oldest first-time grand-slam winner. Weepy because she won when she was not supposed to, and weepy because she announced her retirement on court right just after accepting the tournament prize. But most of all weepy because this was a real-life Cinderella story.

How refreshing is that? Especially—or rather most of all—because these two weeks were supposed to be all about Serena Williams. And if it wasn’t going to be Serena, it certainly wasn’t supposed to be Flavia Pannetta and Roberta Vinci. Who?

Exactly. That’s the Cinderella story. Two players, with just about zero chance of getting to the finals of the U.S. Open get to the final of the U.S. Open. A dream come true.

This was Flavia Pannetta’s 49th grand slam. She had never made it to a final in all those 49 tries. Her previous best result was the semifinalsin the U.S. Open in 2013. She is 33 years and six months old. She was the #23 seed. No one even picked her to go to the final, much less carry away the trophy.

As for Roberta Vinci, one year younger and very close friend to Flavia. Roberta wasn’t even ranked! And she got to the semifinals to play against Serena Williams. A match that had her at 300 to one odds of winning. She had never won a set against Serena in the prior four times they had played. But then. Suddenly she wins a set. Then she holds her nerve. And then it’s two sets and she’s now in the final. An improbable all-Italian final for which the Italian prime minister even had to fly over to watch.

So there it was. The 2015 U.S. womens final—one for the old ones. But it’s not just about the old ones. It’s actually more about the underdogs. These were underdogs like you couldn’t even imagine. And the fact that they went out and won is enough to make me weepy. Weepy with happiness for them, and weepy with excitement for the possibilities of all the other underdogs in the world.

Let’s not discus the odds or the luck or whatever other reason you want to attribute for their improbably success. This is solely about their heart and guts and ability to seize the chance when they had it presented to them. And it’s about our ability to embrace them as they allow us to see the possibilities in ourselves.

It’s hard to imagine a better U.S. Open final (especially when we will see the number one and number two male players fight it out tomorrow for the Men’s title). But today, it is all about the old Italian women and the tenacity of the underdog. Let us all weep with joy!