Mark Twain was here: Mapping a trail of his misadventures

Last year at this time, I did a podcast on Mark Twain in New York and featured this map of notable places Twain worked, lectured, lived and played. Today is the author's birthday -- he was born 176 years ago -- so I thought I'd reprint the map in case you wanted to revisit a few places in his honor, with stops in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. (And even places on Governors Island and Randall's Island!) The three key destinations are his two residences near Washington Square Park and his cliff-side respite up at Wave Hill in Riverdale, Bronx. But the boarding house where he first lived, as a teenager? It's on Duane Street, in today's TriBeCa.

View Mark Twain in New York in a larger map

He also seemed to have had an altercation on a streetcar in 1890 that rankled him most severely, according to a letter he wrote to the New York Sun. The author jumped on the streetcar at Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street. An excerpt:

 "Of course there was no seat -- there never is: New Yorkers do not require a seat, but only permission to stand up and look meek, and be thankful for such little rags of privilege as the good horse-car company may choose to allow them

...After a moment, the conductor, desiring to pass through and see the passengers, took me by the lappel and said to me with that winning courtesy and politeness which New Yorkers are so accustomed to: "Jesus Christ! what you want to load up the door for? Git back here out of the way!".....This conductor was a person about 30 years old, I should say, five feet nine, with blue eyes, a small, dim, unsuccessful moustache, and the general expression of a chicken thief -- you may probably have seen him.

I said I would report him, and asked him for his number. He said, in a tone which wounded me more than I can tell, "I'll give you a chew of tobacco."

 I went up to Sixth avenue and Forty-third street to report him, but there was nobody in the superintendent's office who seemed to want to converse with me. A man with "conductor" on his cap said it wouldn't be any use to try to see the President at that time of day, and intimated by his manner, not his words, that people with complaints were not popular there, any way.

 So I have been obliged to come to you, you see. What I wanted to say to the President of the road was this -- and through him say it to the President of the elevated roads -- that the conductors ought to be instructed never to swear at country people except when there are no city ones to swear at, and not even then except for practice. Because the country people are sensitive. Conductors need not make any mistakes; they can easily tell us from the city people. Could you use your influence to get this small and harmless distinction made in our favor?"

Oh, Samuel.

Courtesy Twain Quotes

Stuffed Jalapenos'

Over Thanksgiving break I learned how to make a stuffed jalapeno peppers! They were easy as can be and just delicious! This Friday night is my sorority's Semi Formal. Before we head out to dance our hearts away a few of the seniors are getting together for appetizers and wine. I have decided I am going to make these stuffed jalapenos' to bring. I know there are lots of events similar to this coming up so I wanted to share the recipe.

1. Slice the jalapeno in half and take out the middle part.
[Note to self: We learned at this part just how hot
peppers can be! Don't touch your eyes!]

2. Soften 2 cream cheese packets

3. Combine cream cheese, 3/4 bag shredded cheddar
cheese and chopped up green onion. Mix and fill hollow jalapenos.

4. Wrap stuffed jalapenos in bacon

5. Bake at 350

Have a wonderful day!

Finally, the Bowery Boys look good on mobile devices!

Not sure why this took me forever to set up, but you can finally read our blog on your mobile devices without any awkward scrolling or squinting your eyes. Just visit ( on your phones to check it out!
I'm also in the planning stages of creating an actual mobile app, but until that makes an appearance, just find us on your favorite mobile search engine....

It just take a moment

I don't know if it is the holidays or if I am just feeling extra kind but lately I have been really noticing how far a simple act of kindness can go. I started thinking about it after a friend of mine was explaining how stressful things are right now for her and how she was having a very unpleasant day. She went on to tell me that she was feeling very discouraged when she was in line at Starbucks. She was about to check out when she realized she didn't have her wallet with her. To her surprise the man behind her overhead what was going on and stepped in and handed the cashier money for her coffee. My friend went on to tell me how uplifting it made her feel for a complete stranger to go out of their way to do something nice. It was only a few dollars but to her it was worth a million.

It is easy to get carried away with our day to day lives and forget to stop and do something for someone other than ourselves. Even the slightest act of kindness could change someones entire day. I was messing around on Pinterest (no surprise) and came across the following link. This girl celebrated her 38th birthday by completing 38 random acts of kindness. You HAVE to read about it here. What an awesome way to spend your birthday! I am going to make it my goal to do think of others a little more and do kind things just because.

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” Luke 6:35

QUE SERA SERA / re:mix / Review

Esplanade Recital Studio
Sunday (27 November 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 29 November 2011 with the title "Melodic mix of memories".

Five years is about the age a child begins to remember the melodies he or she has heard, sung or played by a parent, or via any other media. Childhood memories and yearning for simpler times are the premise of the 5th anniversary concert of the string ensemble re:mix, that untiring purveyor of musical nostalgia.

The supreme irony is that much of its music is played by people who were born long after the original music first came out. They were essentially playing their parents’ music. As for their children, and there were many noisy toddlers in the matinee, numbers like the titular Que Sera Sera (from Hitchcock’s 1965 movie The Man Who Knew Too Much) or any of the Beatles songs, The Yellow Submarine and Eleanor Rigby, belong in the realm of classical music.

It was nonetheless a fascinating experience to relive hoary old chestnuts distilled and re-jigged in new wineskins. Recent Cultural Medallion winner Kelly Tang (left) is a master of transcription, and his re-look at Yin Kerong’s Xiao Bai Chuan (Little White Boat) rolled back the years with pleasure.

Further arrangements by younger colleagues Wong Kah Chun and Chen Zhangyi gave new life to Dvorak’s Songs My Mother Taught Me and Chris Babida’s Xin Bu Liao Qing (New Everlasting Love) respectively, the former sung with some longing by the Singapore Lyric Opera Children’s Choir. Yet the sheer cleverness of the arrangements sometimes put the string players to a test in which they did not always emerge with flying colours.

The latter song sounded over-stretched and under-rehearsed, while the remixed Eleanor Rigby by Chen, packed in Yesterday, Hey Jude and pizzicatos in the manner of the Blues from Ravel’s Violin Sonata. Too much of a good thing, one might say. There was no denying leader Foo Say Ming’s (left) virtuosity in Vieuxtemps’s Souvenir d’Amerique, where the emergence of Yankee Doodle brought out smiles and laughs from the audience.

The theme of primary school blues replaced zoological species in a specially modified version of Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of The Animals. Narrator Rosmarie Somaiah’s very witty script entitled Something’s Happening At School is worth several reruns, as was the playing of the twin sisters Low Shao Ying and Low Shao Suan (above) on piano.

The movement Pianists saw pianists and violinists swap places, and cue total mayhem. If that reminded one of school recess periods, this conception would have succeeded beyond its wildest dreams. Happy fifth birthday, re:mix, and may you always retain that inner child in yourselves.

Relaxation in Astoria, in the lap of Queens history

You'll still find a few free-standing homes on this tip of Astoria. Queens -- traditionally called Hallet's Cove -- but you won't find the one above, a veritable (if ramshackle) plantation getaway as photographed by Berenice Abbott in 1937. The caption of this picture places this house in the hands of Joseph Blackwell, an ancestor of an early settler to this area. Another descendant, Col. Jacob Blackwell, remained loyal to the British during the Revolutionary War; it was his home, named Ravenswood, that gave its name to the neighborhood just south of here.

This was one of many such multi-story single-family homes that lined Franklin Street, in the shadow of 'The Hill', an elegant neighborhood in the days soon after the borough of Queens was created and incorporated into New York City in 1898. This property was but a short stroll from the original estate of Stephen Ailing Halsey, the founder of the original village of Hallets Cove. The village was later renamed Astoria in order entice John Jacob Astor to invest here. Barely interested, Astor did manage to give Halsey $500.

Franklin was later ingloriously renamed to 27th Avenue.

Thanksgiving Recap

Thanksgiving is over and it's back to reality for this girl! I have lots of final projects and exams to get ready for before the semester ends oh so soon. I hope everyone had safe travels and a wonderful holiday with friends and family! Mine could not have been better (minus the super long drive!) Back to Saturday.. the Pirates lost in overtime. So sad! We had a wonderful season though and I'm still proud of the boys! On a better note, roll tide! Alabama won the Iron Bowl. I'll take one win for the day! Here is a recap of my Thanksgiving in Alabama through pictures.

My mom and aunt enjoying Bloody Marys' Thanksgiving morning

my sister trying raw oysters

Fish Fry at my cousin's house after the Iron Bowl

Bonfire night!

THE LISZT CONCERTOS / Singapore Symphony Orchestra / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall

Saturday (26 November 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 28 November 2011 with the title "Attacking with force and fury".

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s tribute to the Franz Liszt bicentenary came late in the year, but it could not have been better timed with the visit of British virtuoso Stephen Hough. To witness both of the Hungarian-born phenom’s piano concertos in the same evening was a luxury, but with Hough at the helm, it was added pleasure.

Make no mistake, the concert was conducted by the young Singaporean maestro Darrell Ang, but it was Hough who dictated the proceedings in the First Piano Concerto in E flat major. From the outset, the work was taken by the scruff of the neck, from which there was no let off. Rarely has the opening octaves and cadenza been attacked with such force and fury.

Forget the few wrong notes in the fray, these were swept away by the oncoming tsunami of sound. There was some respite in the short nocturne-like second movement, but then it was action stations and adrenaline on overdrive all the way to the final bar. Credit also goes to percussionist Mark Suter for his all-important contribution on the humble triangle; timing it to perfection is far more difficult than one imagines.

The Second Piano Concerto in A major, the greater work of the two, provided more semblance of sanity. Not only is the piano better integrated with the orchestra, its unfolding narrative showed Hough to be more than flashy fingers. His overall finesse and magisterial control were a joy to behold, and there is no finer moment than that wonderful passage when he sensitively accompanied cellist Ng Pei Sian’s lovely solo.

After the fire and brimstone topped off with outrageous octave glissandi, there was even time for an encore. Hough’s own transcription of Dvorak’s Songs My Mother Taught Me, was touchingly dedicated to SSO’s former principal violist, the Czech-born Jiri Heger (left), who retires after 32 years of faithful service.

Without Beethoven, there would be no Liszt or Wagner. That was the thematic thread of the concert which began with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No.2. It shares the same themes as the far better known and definitive Overture No.3, but made for fascinating listening with its thrilling build-up to the climatic offstage trumpet solo.

Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture and Venusberg Music closed the concert on a high, with conductor Ang’s direction emphasising on lightness and movement rather than solemn penitence. The concert’s muted ending more than made up for the revelry and wildness that came before.

THE TALES OF LOVE AND DEATH / Singapore Lyric Opera / Review


Singapore Lyric Opera

Esplanade Concert Hall

Friday (25 November 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 28 November 2011 with the title "Love, death and sympathy for a courtesan".

The combo of love and death, inseparable as Siamese twins, was the subject of the Singapore Lyric Opera’s annual gala, but there was to be no Tristan or Isolde. Given that the tradition of performing Wagner is close to non-existent here, the tried and tested Puccini verismo operas were among the unsurprising offerings.

Why not, as the music has popular appeal and there are no shortage of good singers in this repertoire. The usual stars who have graced SLO’s productions returned, and all three were in superb voice and form. The ageless soprano Nancy Yuen (left) was the chief protagonist with bleeding chunks from her signature roles in Tosca and La Bohème.

Nobody here does dying consumptive divas better, except in this case Floria Tosca leaps to her demise rather than wastes away. Her duet Mario, Mario, Mario (Tosca) with Korean tenor Lee Jae Wook (left) simmered and then sizzled, aglow with the anticipation of a late night tryst. The famous sequence in La Bohème which begins with Rodolfo’s Che gelida manina and closing with O soave fanciulla also sported the chemistry which has made this pairing a very special one. So far no deaths.

It was in the final moments of Massenet’s Thaïs, with Korean baritone Song Kee Chang (left), that the tears flowed. Who could not have sympathy for a courtesan turned nun who succumbs, predictably but beautifully, to the strains of the familiar Meditation. For once, that most overplayed of melodies is heard in its proper context.

As a preview to next February’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, highlights were performed, including Yuen and Song in the tender duet La ci darem la mano. Meanwhile Lee, as the roving Don, flirted with a lady in the audience in the Window Serenade by way of a rose, and then polished off the Drinking Song.

The SLO Ladies and Children’s Chorus made credible short appearances in Bizet’s Carmen and Verdi’s Macbeth, while the SLO Orchestra conducted by recently conferred Young Artist Award winner Joshua Tan Kangming (left) played rather many minutes of orchestral excerpts. While Puccini’s youthful Symphonic Prelude came off half-baked, there was no denying the passion in the Intermezzo from Manon Lescaut.

The sole encore was, of course, the Brindisi from Verdi’s La Traviata, which had all three soloists toasting the audience. One would have hoped for more singing in the two hour long concert, but it was the quality rather than quantity that truly mattered.

I-SIS TRIO performs at College of Family Physicians Singapore 40th Anniversary Dinner

The I-Sis Trio, Singapore's premier harp ensemble, performed at the 40th anniversary dinner of the College of Family Physicians Singapore on 27 November 2011 at the Grand Ballroom of the Singapore Hyatt. They enchanted and enthralled an audience of Singapore's fraternity of family physicians with a selection of works from their latest album.

They performed a short programme of works which included pieces which they had specially commissioned as well as their own arrangements of popular classics tangos.

Two young girls hope to emulate their talented older sisters when they grow up!

The I-Sis Trio were a refreshing change from the boring old string quartets.

PianoManiac happened to attend the event (far away from his reviewing duties), but could not escape the strong hold of good music and charming ladies. They say good music is the best medicine for the jaded soul.

Not an Ordinary Day

Okay friends, today is not an ordinary day for college football! Today is the Iron Bowl- Alabama #2 plays rival Auburn and East Carolina plays Marshall for a spot in the bowl game. The games overlap so I will be watching the Alabama game and turning to ECU during commercials. I am still in Alabama with family so you can imagine the game day spirit and Bama/Auburn rivalry going on! Last night my family had a "Iron Bowl Eve Bonfire."

Lets hope for some Alabama and Pirate wins! Roll Tide!

Blog Award!

I hope you had a fabulous Thanksgiving! I know mine could not have been better. I was feeling awfully special yesterday after receiving this blog award from two amazing blogs!! Carolina on My Mind and Pink Zin. You should definitely check these ladies blogs out! I promise you will love it.

This award is for bloggers with less than 200 followers.

The rules of the award are as follows:

1. Thank the person who gave me the award
and link back to their blog.
2. Copy and paste the award to my blog.
3. Reveal the 5 blogs I have chosen to award and let
 them know by commenting on their blogs.
4. Pay it forward to 5 blogs.

The blogs I am awarding are:

and just for fun..

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, November 2011)

Live from Lugano 2010
EMI Classics 708362 (3CDs) / ****1/2

The Martha Argerich Project of the annual Lugano Festival brings together the world’s top young musicians in a feast of chamber music, inspired by the sheer presence and personality of the Argentine piano legend herself. Every edition throws up a panoply of works, familiar and obscure. Argerich appears only in the first two discs, but her effect is electric, not least in Chopin’s First Piano Concerto – a signature favourite of hers – with the Orchestra Svizzera Italiana conducted by Jacek Kaspszyk. She also joins some-time partner Stephen Kovacevich in Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion in a fiery performance, reliving the good old days of their famed collaboration.

Rarities make this box-set a keeper as well. Where else would one get performances of piano quintets by Enrique Granados, Erich Korngold or Alfred Schnittke? The last is a particularly acerbic work that closes the collection on a pall of depression. But that is offset by sparkling works for multiple pianos by Chopin (Rondo Op.73), Brahms (Schumann Variations Op 23) and the scintillating Gershwin-Grainger (Porgy & Bess Fantasy). The pick of the crop are Liszt’s Les Preludes on two pianos (with Argerich and Daniel Rivera) and the three-piano transcription for three pianos by Carlo Maria Griguoli of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (Griguoli, Giorgia Tomassi and Alessandro Stella). Enjoy!

Piano Quintets / Piano Sonata No.2
Deutsche Grammophon 477 8332 / ****1/2

Only a pianist of Krystian Zimerman’s stature could have persuaded Deutsche Grammophon to devote an entire release to Polish music not composed by Chopin or Szymanowski. Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) was without doubt Poland’s greatest woman composer. More of her music, obscured from the West because of her relatively early death behind the “iron curtain”, is being heard today. Perhaps the least unfamiliar is her Second Piano Sonata (1953), a virtuoso vehicle that possesses a fluent but turbulent lyricism, brilliantly realised by Zimerman. The finale is a coruscating toccata that will make it a concert hall favourite.

The two piano quintets are classically conceived despite the modern idioms employed. Tonality is retained, but with dissonance that goes beyond the pungent chromaticism of Szymanowski. The First Quintet (1952) is perhaps more memorable than the compact and ascetic Second Quintet (1965), largely due to the use of the oberek, a mazurka-like dance that goes back to before Chopin’s time. Bacewicz is a distinctive and original voice, and repeated listening will reveal a similar appeal enjoyed by established icons like Bartok, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Zimerman and his compatriots on strings invest their heart and soul in this musically rewarding outing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

We shouldn't have to wait until the fourth Thursday in November to express our thanks. Being around friends and family really reminds you what is important! I hope y'all have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with good good and good company! I am thankful for so many things it is impossible to narrow it down to one list, but here is my attempt!

I am thankful for


My Family

My Friends

My blogging network
Y'all bring joy to each and every day! Blogging has
enabled me to meet so many wonderful people and I am
truly thankful.

The opportunities I have been provided with

My internship class

This moment right now
Sitting with my family in Alabama watching the Macy's Day Parade with
a cup of coffee, turkey smoking, dogs running around, comfy sweater, laughs
hugs and smiles- it's absolutely perfect. I don't think I could ever thank God enough.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Gobble Gobble

CLARENCE LEE Piano Recital

CLARENCE LEE Piano Recital
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Thursday (24 November 2011)

What a pleasure it is to finish a long day of work with good music, especially when it comes from a young talent who is also a passionate musician. Young pianist Clarence Lee is a final year student at the Conservatory, whose studies was disrupted by that most unavoidable of trials that comes with being a Singaporean male - 2 years of National Service (or is it National Servitude?). Thankfully his hands are intact, but more importantly that priceless inner muse that leads to instinctual music-making is gloriously preserved.

His well-conceived programme began with a tiny Scarlatti Sonata in F minor (K.466), that dovetailed neatly with Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata (Op.57), also in the same key. The former was illuminated with clarity and a rounded legato that brought out its tender bittersweet quality, contrasted with the latter's boom and bluster. The more mature musician in Lee avoided the bangy and splashy tendencies of his younger years, and went for instead for the heart of the music by projecting well and bringing volume to bear only at the right moments. Even in the coruscating finale, might and power was reserved - rightly so - for the final page. Before that, he went velocity and lightness instead, which made for a refreshing change from those all-too-loud versions that pass for passionate hearts.

The best performance fell to Liszt's transcription of Wagner's Isoldes Liebestod. Always careful to maintain the seamless soprano line, Lee never forsook beauty for the pursuit of virtuosity. The build up to the shuddering climax was perfectly judged, a truly heartrending journey before the tumultuous meltdown of crashing chords, and eternal rest.

He closed with Rachmaninov's Second Sonata (Op.36) in the 1931 revised "economical" version, which still does not disguise the thinness of its musical material. Nevertheless, Lee embraced it with a wealth of sound, bringing to bear its inherent tragedy and clangourous bells. He went for the jugular, which entailed certain risks - missed notes and lapses - avoidable but almost inevitable at this blistering pace. Yet there were moments of true poetry, such as in the central movement that shone out from within the thickets of notes. The cadenza was not perfect but brought out with scintillating panache, and the reserves of adrenaline were unleashed for the gushing finale. Despite a certain rawness, one cannot but have praise and admiration for this guts and glory reading.

How many young Singaporeans can play like this? Not many. I look forward to hearing more of Clarence Lee, perhaps in Mozart and Schubert. With these composers, more musical qualities will be discerned.

Happy Thanksgiving Masking: The pleasures of mischief, featureless masks and cross-dressing children!

No, these children have not gotten their calendars confused. One early American Thanksgiving tradition amongst rascals and rowdies involved goofy costumes and disguised faces. Sometimes called 'Thanksgiving masking', the strange practice stemmed from a satirical perversion of poverty and an ancient tradition of 'mumming', where men in costumes floated from door to door, asking for food and money, sometimes in exchange for music. The annual Philadelphia Mummers Parade traces back to the original tradition which some believe began in the 17th century.

By the 1800s, those going door-to-door asking for handouts were most likely homeless and poor. This seems to have inspired a children's tradition not unlike modern trick-or-treat. "Every street had its band of children," proclaimed the 1901 Tribune, "dressed as ragamuffins, who kept in the open air for hours."

Newspapers advertised 'Thanksgiving masks' and 'lithographed character masks' for the tots. These featureless disguises were often sold in candy stores alongside holiday related treats like spiced jelly gums, opera drops, crystallized ginger and tinted hard candies.

"This play of masking is deeply rooted in the New York child," said Appleton's Magazine in 1909. "All toy shops carry a line of hideous and terrifying false faces or 'dough faces' as they are termed on the East Side."

Boys frequently wore girls clothing on this occasion, "tog[ging] themselves out in worn-out finery of their sisters" and spending their afternoon "gamboling in awkward mimicry of their sisters to the casual street piano."

The New York Times in 1899 found the streets filled with costumed tricksters that Thanksgiving. "There were Fausts, Filipinos, Mephistos, Boers, Uncle Sams, John Boers, Harlequins, bandits, sailors... In poorer quarters a smear of burned cork and a dab of vermilion sufficed for babbling celebrants."

Those that benefited most -- outside of the costumed children, obviously having a ball -- were the candy stores that both sold the masks and provided the sweets distributed to the little devils. In particular, Loft Candy stores, headquartered at the corner of West 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, ran spectacular ads filled with Thanksgiving themed candy treats.

In general however it's difficult to find too much enthusiasm for this unsavory tradition in newspapers of the day. Thanksgiving was (and continues to be) one of the most austere holidays. Poor, cross-dressing, shoddy-garbed children in masks flew in the face of this perception and was generally discouraged. Editors preferred to focus on family gatherings, recipes and table placements, not only out of social convention but on the behest of advertisers, who made more money selling turkey and china than cheap masks.

While the chaotic tradition was associated with poverty and mischief, some educators saw a bright side to the tradition, especially in the waning years of World War I. One writer on early Kindergarten practices suggested that "the masking on the streets of Thanksgiving Day ... has its redeeming quality, in reminding the children of our dear soldiers' need for real masks." They would be referring to gas masks. Educational indeed!

Such mischief, not surprisingly, occasionally went out of control. For instance, the New York Tribune in 1907 reports a poor lad "in mask and fantastic garb" who was hit by a train and had his leg amputated.

With the rise and commercialization of Halloween, the practice of Thanksgiving masking seems to have died out. And the entrance of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in 1924 certain gave focus to the city's need for costumed celebration.

NOTE: These photos are from the Library of Congress. As such, the locations are unmarked. Most likely they are all of New York children, but a few may be children from other cities in delirious states of costume. (The top photo is courtesy Shorpy)

Happy Thanksgiving!