AH, PARIS!

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The EIFFEL TOWER, as seen from many different Paris neighborhoods, constitutes the official kick off to a whole lot of Paris infused blog posts (even if it is actually the third of such blog posts – I’ll just call those first two “Paris teaser posts”).

 

The first two views of the Eiffel Tower will be teasers too.  As seen from the balcony of our guest apartment in the 10th arrondissement:

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And at night…

 

 

 

And for musical accompaniment, I will include music and lyrics of two of my favorite songs with Paris in the title.  The first, as sung by the divine Ella Fitzgerald:

 

I Love Paris – Cole Porter

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Place de la Concorde

Every time I look down on this timeless town
Whether blue or gray be her skies
Whether loud be her cheers or whether soft be her tears
More and more do I realize that

 

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Jardin du Luxembourg

 

I love Paris in the springtime
I love Paris in the fall

 

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Jardin des Touleries

 

I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles

 

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Along the Seine, with a copy of Lady Liberty (West Side)

 

I love Paris every moment

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Every moment of the year

 

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The Seine, further East, near Notre Dame

 

Every moment of the year

 

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The Russian Church, as seen from the Seine, with the Eiffel Tower

 

I love Paris
Why, oh, why do I love Paris?

 

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TELL TALE SIGN…

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Something’s coming…

 

Something murderous, mad, musical…

 

A pale blue eye…

 

Cellos signing;  moaning;  screaming…

 

His hideous heart…

 

It’s all returning…

 

But not the way it was…

 

It will take on a whole new form…

 

A whole new form of murder, madness, music…

 

It’s coming….

 

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MONA LISA & ME

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Yep that’s me.  And that’s the Mona Lisa.  And this is a little tale of how I spent some time with her.

It starts with a trip to Paris.  And a whole day set aside for the Louvre, the immense museum that once was the king’s palace, until Louis XIV thought it just too dinky and built Versailles instead…

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We entered the Louvre from the Paris Metro to gaze at the pyramids rising both above and below the new central entrance I M Pei designed for the Louvre in 1983.

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Once we passed security and ticketing we made our way into the vast halls of the Louvre.

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So much to see, but we were determined to make the Mona Lisa our first stop.  From the flow of other tourists beside us, we were clearly not the only ones making the bee’s line to Mona.

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It would mean blithely jogging past two magnificent Michelangelos, not realizing these were two magnificent Michelangelos until we got to them later in the day.  I’ll spend some quality time with them here as well on another blog post another time…

 

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But right now, gotta boogie on to Mona Lisa…

 

 

 

 

 

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No time to linger, M L is calling!

 

(Man this place is huge!) ….

 

 

 

Finally we entered the hall which houses Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

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The Mona Lisa is one of the smaller paintings in the hall, and unlike all the others which depict dramatic events peopled with theatrically emotive characters, contents itself with depicting a singular figure from the waist up, sporting a famously enigmatic smile.

A separate wall has been installed just for it in the center of the hall.

A large area in the center of this section of the hall has been cordoned off to handle the crowds.  From the size of this area and the expected numbers it could hold, I could tell this was (as a guide also confirmed) a less crowded day than normal at the Louvre.

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Nonetheless, I would have to patiently make my way through enough of a crowd to get close to M L.

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ISADORA DUNCAN and the View from Pompidou

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A pioneer of modern dance.  A preserved treasure of early film.

Ed and I are spending two weeks in Paris (don’t feel sorry for me) and Monday we went to the Pompidou museum, where this little treasure of dance and cinema struck me as particularly noteworthy.

Isadora Duncan is the early pioneer of modern dance.  And here she can be seen performing the Serpentine Dance.  Individually hand-painted cells mimic the changing colored lights on her swirling dress:

 

I looked on YouTube to see if this film snippet was widely available. Not by itself and not attributed to Duncan.  It is incorporated in someone’s video about a different dancer.  But I will venture the curators of the Pompidou museum got it right when crediting  Isadora Duncan.

 

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And since this film is being shown in a temporary exhibit at the Pompidou in Paris, and I am temporarily in Paris, let me share a few views of Paris from atop the Pompidou.

Much more from the Pompidou, and Paris, and France to come. Consider this a prologue, an amuse-bouche, before the inevitable blog barrage.

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HAPPY SONGS FOR DARK TIMES #2: Miss Marple, Tatu, and the Chipper Harpsichord

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Theme from Miss Marple – Ron Goodwin and his Orchestra

A while back I promised there would be a series of Happy Tunes for Dark Times to highlight what I consider sure fire musical mood boosters.

What with ever escalation Twitter Tantrums, continued government sanctioned child kidnapping, greater environmental desecrations, ever more obvious indicators of treason, the slow steady erosion of democracy and and and devolving unabated, it might be excused that I have taken this long to muster the will for a second installment of “Happy Tunes” (or it might rather be emphasized what have I been waiting for dammit?!?), although my Mamma Mia-post(s) might rightly be seen as the actual second installment.

Anyway, today I want to share what to me is the number one unassailable Happiest Tune on Earth.  The Theme Song for the 1960’s Miss Marple movies starring Margaret Rutherford.  More than any other piece of music, this one has the power to ALWAYS make me feel chipper and invariably want to dance some sort of happy dance.

MarpleThose bright strings!  That jaunty harpsichord!  Those chirping flutes!  It’s all so very cheery and 1960s and English and the perfect theme song for the merry murder sleuthing of the Miss Marple movies.

I particularly enjoy how the strings and the harpsichord keep exchanging places as lead melody and echoing obligatos in both the main theme and the bridge sections of the piece.  When I am moved to do a little happy dance to this music, I can’t help but mime playing the harpsichord, at whatever angle my hand just happens to be at the moment.

The joyous nature of the piece truly can’t be denied, yet I should possibly concede that it being my absolute favorite #1 mood picker upper may not be a just about musical momentum but also may have a little something to do with a deeply anchored personal connection to my childhood.  But isn’t that the way dearly treasured art tends to work for us mere mortals?

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FALLING INTO JACKSON POLLOCK

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JP0 (1)This Sunday I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and found myself in front of their monumental Jackson Pollock “Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)”.  And once again I had that hallucinogenic experience I often have in front of Jackson Pollock’s famous drip paintings, and which I only have in front of Jackson Pollock’s famous drip paintings.

I’ve never ingested LSD but I imagine this is the closest I’ll ever get to an actual acid trip.

It is not an experience I get from looking at reproductions of Jackson Pollock paintings.  Perhaps because these can not duplicate the dimensions of the original.  Or perhaps the tactile nature of the paint on canvass needs to be experienced in person too.

 

 

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I am not sure I can adequately describe the experience, or why it only happens to me in front of a Jackson Pollock drip painting.  But here it is:

I sit or stand in front of the painting and examine it like any other abstract work of art.  The eye inevitably wanders along the swoops and arcs and patterns of paint on the canvas.

But eventually my gaze rests and finds a spot in the painting to focus on.

Or rather focus through.

 

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FACES. REFLECTIONS. REFRACTIONS.

Some more expected and unexpected impressions at the Brooklyn Museum

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First, encounters with some singular faces.

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It’s hot and humid out, but she is eternally the embodiment of frigid winter.

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WIZARDS AT THE LYRIC

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My birthday present – my quite extravagant birthday present to myself – was tickets to the two-part all day performance of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” at the Lyric Theatre in New York.  And since today is Harry Potter’s birthday, as well as his creator J. K. Rowling’s birthday, I thought this is a good day to share some impressions.

HP2And yes, I will “hashtag Keep the Secrets”, although I do wonder where the Magical Powers That Be draw the line.  Is sharing evocative details from the Lyric theater’s wizarding-world-related renovation violating the Unbreakable Vow?  Will Ministry of Magic aurors swoop down on me, confringo-ing my blogpost (or rather, considering my location, will I be busted by MACUSA agents)?

HP3I write not to reveal story secrets but to praise the stagecraft, of which the enveloping atmosphere of the Lyric is one winning element.  Of the story, I’ll just posit that “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is not, as marketers will have you accept, “the 8th book” or even “the 8th part” in the Harry Potter literary saga.  The seven Harry Potter books are their own contained galaxy, and the movies, the original adaptations and the Fantastic Beast films, as well as the play and its published script, occupy their own wonderful galaxies within the same universe.  At least that’s the perspective I believe allows for the greatest appreciation of all the “content” the Wizarding World provides.

Case in point, without giving away too much, I’ll just say two words: Time Management.  I read the script of “Cursed Child” as soon as it was published, nearly two years before I would see it performed on stage.  Early on it became clear the use of time, both as a plot device and a story structure device, would be quite different from what was experienced in the original books.  Reading this on a page, in a hard covered book, I felt my internal resistance grow.  But then I took a breath, reminded myself that this isn’t a book, it is the script of a play, and just like the movies it must tell its story in its own way to suit the art form.  The Harry Potter movies changed the stories at times to work as cinema, and these were direct adaptations of the original books.  The Harry Potter play is not an adaptation of the books, as it takes place when Harry, Ron and Hermione are middle aged adults.  As such it can fly even freer than the movie adaptations, and thus imagines a tale that is designed to resonate as a theatrical experience first and foremost.  The story and the telling of the story are made powerful because of the special properties of live theater.

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So I may have been concerned that certain tropes of “Time Management” familiar from other corners of fantasy culture but heretofore not part of the Harry Potter world become a major part of this story.  But it turns out their unique inclusion in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, unique to Harry Potter and unique even to the stage as a storytelling device (as far as I know), is a vital inextricable part of the production’s dramatic power.

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The walls of the Lyric Theatre’s foyer are painted with Patronuses – magical protective animals of light – which hide quotes from the Harry Potter novels in their designs.

The story and its relationship to time serves to put the characters we’ve know as children, and now also their children, into a variety of extreme circumstances that forces us to see them in new fascinating, ever evolving ways. (And if I explained more precisely how that is I would definitely not be hashtag keeping the secrets anymore.)  It also allows for some intense intimate scenes between characters.  Some of the most affecting moments are when two characters are simply talking to each other.  Words, acting, the drama of a relationship, those universal touchstones of the best plays are also what distinguishes “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”.

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But what about the magic?  The special effects?

Well, yes, of course that is a big brilliant part of the play.  But believe me, this production would not have been embraced by the West End and Broadway communities (showered with 9 Olivier and 6 Tony Awards) if the words, acting, drama weren’t as potent as the magical effects.

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THEY KILLED MERYL! – but she still left us one or two musical gems

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When the first trailers for “Mamma Mia – Here We Go Again” arrived, the absence of Meryl Streep was conspicuous.  As were certain lines that hinted at her character Donna Sheridan’s absence in the “Mamma Mia” movie sequel.  Her likely permanent absence.  I was concerned.  Surely they didn’t…  (spoilers to follow from here on…)

Meryl Streep was listed as a cast member on IMDb, so her presence in “Mamma Mia – Her We Go Again” seemed assured, but by the time the (mostly enthusiastic) reviews for the return of the ABBA movie musical hit the internet, the death of Meryl Streep’s character Donna Sheridan a year before the present day events in the movie was confirmed.

My reaction might be summarized thusly:

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They killed off Meryl?!  OK, not Meryl, but they killed off Donna?  The heart and soul of the first “Mamma Mia”?  They give the character a happy end in the first movie, only to wrest it all brutally away within four years of story or so, dead and mourned by all in the new movie?

Isn’t this all supposed to be happy escapist fun? I really was counting on that!  Goofy, happy, tuneful fun!  Why let the death of the most beloved character hang sorrowfully over the escapist proceedings?  How is that supposed to work without souring the whole soufflé?

Surprisingly enough, for the most part it works just fine, even for me who admittedly maybe cares a little too much; and even though I still would have preferred explaining away the absence of Streep from 95% of the movie with way-laid travels or perhaps a full on coma from which Donna could return/awaken just in time for the finale and then resumed her happily ever after (no less plausible than much else in these films’ plots).

Nonetheless, cheery/wistful Abbaesque shenanigans ensue enjoyably throughout.  Grief over Donna is treated lightly, both sincerely and comically, casting not a pall but mostly merely a light melancholy over the film.  I guess in these darker times, even the most unabashedly escapist bauble must take on a wistful patina.

Which by the final song becomes an undeniable tearjerker.  Streep finally appears in the flesh – that may not be the best phrase, since technically at that point she is appearing as a ghost or memory –  singing “My Love, My Life” with her daughter, who is baptizing her own daughter.  At which point I have to concede through my gushing tears that Donna’s demise gives this mother/daughter duet sequel a gut-punching power that travel delays or even a coma comeback just wouldn’t have mustered.  The original “Mamma Mia” didn’t open such floodgates.   (And I am certainly not alone in responding that way.  The BBC radio 5 Live movie critic Mark Kermode, already on record declaring “My Love, My Life” his favorite ABBA song, confessed not just to tears but to loud sobbing in the screening room.  You go, Mark, and “Hello to Jason Isaacs!”)

“My Love, My Life”, beautifully sung by Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried (and Lily James as the young Donna on the opening verse), is the undeniable musical and dramatic highlight of the movie.  And by that I mean no disrespect to the whole entertaining cast, new and returned.  Heck, just Cher singing “Fernando” with Andy Garcia is a glorious gift from the Movie Music Gods!

 

My Love, My Life – ABBA

 

My Love, My Life – Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep, Lily James

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But there is one more musical gem from Streep via “Mamma Mia – Here We Go Again”, one even better than her singing “My Love My Life”.  And no, I don’t mean the reprise of “Super Trouper” during the credit encores.

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BEFORE THE SUNSET – with the Sun Song Quiz

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The lady saw me walk onto the middle of the street with my phone out, and said to Ed “he’s taking a picture of the sunset” in that universal “that’s so sweet” tone of voice.

Except it wasn’t quite the sunset.  It was the bright low sun right before the sunset and how it effected our street that captured my camera curiosity all the way down the block.

So I will share these pics via my new Arts-a-Poppin’ photophile category and include another one of my “patented” music quizzes, hints tucked away in the tags below.

Enjoy.

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Sun Song #1 – Which pop genius, singing about the sunset here, calls her official site Fish People?

And can someone please explain to me why she calls her official site Fish People?

 

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Sun Song #2 – The Yiddish version of this famous musical’s sun tinged song is “Tog-ayn, Tog-oys” (day in, day out)

 

That’s Ed silhouetted on the pavement:

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Sun Song #3 – Before they hit it big with a Disco classic, this scrappy New York City Punk band went “In the Sun”.

 

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MAMA MIA – Here We Sing Along Again

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Escapism for the New Great Depression

I slid the “Mamma Mia” disk into the blu-ray player.  I asked Ed whether it we should activate the sing-along function this time?  Ed hesitated, then demurred.  But I knew he wanted it.  So I asked again as the option presented itself on screen.  This time he bellowed “Yes!”

So two grey haired men with facial hair sang along with Meryl and Pierce and Colin as they warbled all those fabulous ABBA songs.

And I cried.

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A Busby Berkeley extravaganza

Over forty years ago, I was a child watching one of those 1930s Busby Berkeley musical extravaganzas on TV and my father made a comment about movie escapism during the Great Depression.  I asked him what he meant, and he explained that the Great Depression of the 1930s was such a terrible time, people’s lives were hard and miserable with economic hardship.  But the movies gave them musical extravaganzas and happy endings.  I remember thinking it was wrong to go to the movies to watch shiny lies when the world is full of wrongs.  This was the 1970s after all, where so many movies eschewed happy endings for gritty downbeat realism.  My father explained when the whole world is going to hell, people need escapism to comfort them.  It still felt like a poor option to me, even morally dubious, and something that we had fortunately culturally outgrown.  A few years later I would see Preston Sturgess’ “Sullivan’s Travels”, which combines gritty depression era honesty with the balm of escapist comedy brilliantly.  But even then I didn’t quite buy the message.

I do now.

Because boy is the world going to shit.

We don’t have the economic disaster of the Great Depression (yet).  We do have the rise of dangerous populism and fascism.  Not like the 1930’s, yet, but rising, world wide.  Yet in the United States, which in the 1930’s elected one of its greatest presidents to show a better way, we now are saddled with the worst of the worst our nation has ever seen, dragging us down with a litany of pussygrabbing horrors: dishonesty, greed, corruption, injustice, narcissism, chauvinism, xenophobia, racism, child kidnapping, environmental destruction, the flirtation with fascism now graduated to a shake and shimmy with fascism; oh the list of the crimes is endless as is the constant trampling of any and every sort of decency.

I go on and on.  But Seth Meyers last night put it most pithily: “irredeemably awful”.

And the dispiriting fact that much too large a section of the country’s population, not a majority but not nearly a small enough minority, supports this monstrosity continuously through thick glop and thicker gruel with Dear Leader cult-like far-right-signalling blinkers…  Deplorable doesn’t really cover it anymore.

Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 7.21.18 PMAnd then today, the obvious betrayal of the country.  The unmistakable beholdenness, obsequiousness, to a murderous dictator, a smiling villain, the puppet master.

The aiding and abetting of a hostile foreign power.

The Kafkaesque nightmare that just won’t end but only reaches ever greater lows of sickening awfulness.

The Great Depression this time around isn’t economic.  It is psychological.  And it is bringing down whole populations in existential despair.  In deep moral exhaustion.

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MOONLIGHT EVOCATION

 

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Moonlight Serenade – Glenn Miller and His Orchestra

It’s my husband Ed’s birthday today.  And among his wrapped birthday presents he will find another viola piano duet, another Evocation.  We’ve been together 25 years, so this year it’s Evocation XXV.  (Read stories about some of the other Evocations here, here, here and here.)  Yet there will be something different about this particular Evocation, something unlike all the others.

For one, it isn’t completely my own composition but a collaboration, or rather a variation on a classic composition.  By none other than Glenn Miller.  For another, it is a composition that came to me in a dream.

I’ve heard of artists, especially writers or composers, tell of ideas coming to them in their dreams, yet I don’t recall this ever happening to me before.  But several weeks ago I dreamed of the melody of Glenn Miller’s 1939 jazz band evergreen “Moonlight Serenade” being played by Ed on the viola, while I was working out the original accompaniment figures on the piano.  I woke up vividly remembering the dream, especially the music (Normally I tend to forget my dreams swiftly upon awakening).  And I thought, well, there is an idea.  I hadn’t yet composed this year’s Evocation.  I had no ideas for it yet.  There were only a few weeks left to compose it before Ed’s birthday, but I don’t think I was feeling the pressure yet.  Perhaps subconsciously I was?  And thus the dream?  Either way, I took heed of the dream, and decided the next Evocation would adapt the main themes of the Moonlight Serenade for viola and piano and then continue the composition with some variations and digressions à la Ashkenasi.

I realized that morning right away that this would end up being a more ambitious, time consuming writing process than most of the more recent Evocations.  But the idea was formed.  And I submitted to it.  In composing, as in life, it’s probably not advisable to deny oneself one’s dreams.

Here is how it turned out, as performed (sigh) by a soulless computer program (Ed and I will likely give it a premiere whirl on actual live instruments later today):

 

Evocation XXV – Moonlight Evocation – Danny Ashkenasi and Glenn Miller

 

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NATARAJA – The Dancing King

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Museum Impressions

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Yesterday at the Brooklyn Museum with an unwitting special focus on the feminine

 

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BROOKLYN PRIDE

Park Slope Comes Out!

Highlights from the June 9 Brooklyn Pride Street Fare and Parade

 

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We are Family – Sisters Sledge

 

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BEWARE THE CON! – a cautionary epistolary tale

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The following emails are actual.  Only certain identifying details have been redacted.

 

Sunday, 7:01pm – Message from D- C- relayed via a service for independent contractors:

Hello,My name is D- ,I want lessons for my Daughter,she is 12 years old, Pls text (XXX) XXX-XXXX me or email to ( h——@gmail.com ) the cost of 1 hour per day total of 10 lessons in a month ?

 

Sunday 11:21 pm – Danny Ashkenasi to h—–@gmail.com 

Dear Mr. C-,
 
I received your message from T———- regarding lessons for your 12 year old daughter and requesting information about the cost of 1 hour per day total of 10 lessons in a month.

 

A one hour lesson at my studio would be $XX.  ($XXX for 10) For 10 lessons in a month, would you be considering a lesson scheduled every 3 or 4 days?

 

I do make house calls as well, for a $5-$10 surcharge, depending on distance traveled.  I am located in Brooklyn, and normally don’t travel as far as the XXXXX zip code you are located.

 

Please contact me directly at dannyashkenasi@gmail.com or XXX XXX-XXXX. 
best,
 

Danny Ashkenasi

 
 

Monday 4:27 am – D- J- to me

 

Thanks for getting back to me, My daughter name is Susan she is coming
for an holiday in your CITY and I want her to be busy in the time of
the day,because i will be in CANADA for business trip for more than a
month that is why i want her to be lesson with you i have Someone that
will always drive her down to your house or lessons center for the
each lessons,the total days of the lesson will only be 10 days in a
month. Just let me know the cost for the 10 days lessons ?

 

 

Monday 4:44 am – D- J- to me

 

Am okay with your price and i also have Someone that will be driven
her down to you for the each lessons,What is your own convenient time
and days that you want my daughter to be coming in a week?

 

 

Monday 8:44 am – Danny Ashkenasi to D- 
 
Mr. C-,
 
What month are we looking at? This June and July I am the most open for scheduling lessons in the early afternoon. 2pm for example would be available most Mondays thru Thursdays and some Fridays. Earlier times are also widely available. Later afternoon or evening times are more booked up but can be arranged during the week as well.

Please let me know between what two dates you would like to schedule the 10 lessons and (if 2pm will work for you) I will schedule out 10 specific dates that maximize the efficacy of the lessons.

Is Susan a beginner player, and if not, how many years has she been playing piano?

best,

Danny

 

Monday 9:08 am – D- C- to me

 

She will be starting the lesson probably this week,  The 2pm time is
better and Mondays through Thursday and Friday will also be fine with
my daughter. I believe my daughter will definitely enjoy lesson under
you, Yes she has been playing piano before now. she’s a humble girl
which always want to learn for her future. she will definitely be a
good student under you…Everything sound good to me and am okay with
you,My mode of payment is check and it will get deliver to your door
step via USPS this week before the lesson will start this week..Kindly
get back to me with your  full name to be on the check and your
address And your direct contact that you want the payment to be
deliver too so that i can forward it to my Secretary to mail out the
payment to you asap..Thanks
 

Monday 9:26 am – Danny Ashkenasi to D- 
 
Very well,

I will write out a schedule (with my address) and an invoice for you. Should we have her start this Wednesday? Or we could start tomorrow (Tuesday) too, if you like. Since we are starting so soon, the check can be brought with your daughter at the first lesson.

But before I can create the schedule I need to know by what day should the 10 lessons end?

best,

Danny Ashkenasi

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