Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Lens

Above are a few photos taken with my new 35mm lens over the holiday. Can you believe those bright orangey reds!? The lens is extremely kind to clueless photogs like me and even kinder to skin tones.

That's my cousin Lucy up there, and her husband Mike. Then there is the Minden Courthouse, near where my Dad grew up, and our lab Belle, who gets sweeter every time I see her. The last photo is a gift from my sister-- a book of letters that Julia Child and Avis DeVoto wrote back and forth from Paris to New England in the 50s. They talk about cooking and knives and Nixon and McCarthy, and it really is quite wonderful.

I love this time of year and look forward to toasting in 2011 with a four day weekend that I just realized I have. Seriously, it didn't occur to me until 3pm that I don't have to be back at work until Tuesday.
Happy New Year, all!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

La Lune

Did you all see the Lunar eclipse last week!? I did not. Typical. But this guy did, and in an enviable fashion-- with a bottle of wine and a fire pit.


Alison and I cannot. stop. laughing. over this site.

If you read Freedom, watch this. Some good Franzen/DFW scoop in there.

Fantastic piece by George Saunders from the New Yorker online.

Guess where the 'greenest restaurant in America' is located!?

True story.

Happy almost Christmas, dearies! Kiss New York for me, I'll be in the homeland drinking tea and taking bubble baths. IT'S COLD THERE.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Tree Story

And now, to counter my obnoxiously upbeat take on this holiday season, please read this: Lauren Hoffman's newest essay on The Nervous Breakdown

And a bit of our corresponding chatter:

5:25 PM Lauren: Christmas stories have morals – things like “Giving is important” or “Family matters” or “Maybe snoop through your husband’s closet a little to find out what he got you before you up and cut off all your hair” or “If you don’t want the inside of your hotel to be covered with placenta and overrun with shepherds, go ahead and tell that nice pregnant lady that you’re all booked up.”
6:10 PM me: bahaaaaaaaa
did you write that??
please say yes
6:11 PM Lauren: yeah
I changed "covered with placenta" to "covered IN placenta"
6:17 PM me: that makes all the difference
Lauren: are you being sarcastic?
because OMG IT DOES
6:18 PM me: my arms hurt
Lauren: yoga?
my thumbs hurt from christmas button crafts
6:22 PM me: i wasn't being sarcastic! i love little word changes
i do i do! (yes, yoga.)
6:23 PM Lauren: hahaha
I'm trying not to overwrite
but I really hate christmas

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

You can get this for me for Christmas

It will take up my entire kitchen/living room but totally worth it.

(By Markus Krauss)

Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds at the Tate Modern

Have you all heard about Ai Weiwei's current installation at Tate Modern? Amazing. He filled the museum's turbine hall (I love that hall, it puts MoMA's atrium to shame) with millions of life-sized sunflower seed husks made out of porcelain. Each of the hand-crafted seeds were individually formed and painted. I will repeat that-- EACH OF THE SEEDS WERE INDIVIDUALLY FORMED AND PAINTED.

It's a commentary on the 'Made in China' phenomenon and the shrinking world and it's brilliant. More on Weiwei here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

And the Cantilevered Inference Shall Hold the Day

Hello my lovelies, did you have nice weekends? Yesterday was terrific, so rainy and terrible out that I was forced to stay indoors and watch movies all day. (Well, that is until around about 5pm when I thought I was going to go mad from being indoors all day that I dashed to a bikram yoga class on Court Street to downward dog with other stir crazy girls. I'm not so good at staying in.)

Anyway. I actually posted this poem a year ago, but it is so very appropriate for this time of year, all about hope and new beginnings. The last few stanzas (stanzas?) get to me, so if nothing else, skip over the first part about the warbler and spend some time with the lying in bed portion of the poem. (But then, of course, you will want to circle back and read the warbler part because the laying in bed portion was so very perfect.)

So here you are, New York. Enjoy this poem and enjoy this dark and lovely December day.

And the Cantilevered Inference Shall Hold the Day

by Michael Blumenthal

Things are not as they seem: the innuendo of everything makes
itself felt and trembles towards meanings we never intuited
or dreamed. Take, for example, how the warbler, perched on a

mere branch, can kidnap the day from its tediums and send us
heavenwards, or how, held up by nothing we really see, our
spirits soar and then, in a mysterious series of twists and turns,

come to a safe landing in a field, encircled by greenery. Nothing
I can say to you here can possibly convince you that a man
as unreliable as I have been can smuggle in truths between tercets

and quatrains on scraps of paper, but the world as we know
is full of surprises, and the likelihood that here, in the shape
of this very bird, redemption awaits us should not be dismissed

so easily. Each year, days swivel and diminish along their inscrutable
axes, then lengthen again until we are bathed in light we were not
prepared for. Last night, lying in bed with nothing to hold onto

but myself, I gazed at the emptiness beside me and saw there, in the
shape of absence, something so sweet and deliberate I called it darling.
No one who encrusticates (I made that up!) his silliness in a bowl,

waiting for sanctity, can ever know how lovely playfulness can be,
and, that said, let me wish you a Merry One (or Chanukah if you
prefer), and may whatever holds you up stay forever beneath you,

and may the robin find many a worm, and our cruelties abate,
and may you be well and happy and full of mischief as I am,
and may all your nothings, too, hold something up and sing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Desk Set

Tracy and Hepburn's 1957 anti-computer office flick isn't commonly thought of as a Christmas movie, but it absolutely is. It's a silly little film, but one of my favorites, and one of two movies that features Katharine Hepburn as a very exaggerated drunk. It's the office party we all wish we had in an era when tinsel and mistletoe flowed freely and everyone had names like 'Bunny' and 'Peg' and 'Ruthie' and 'Watson'.

My office holiday party is Monday, at a fancy Nolita restaurant where everyone will undoubtedly down champagne, stand a good two feet apart, stare awkwardly at the food, and be home by 7. Same, same.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Redheads by Joel Meyerowitz

Super Labo recently reissued a book of Joel Meyerowitz's 1991 collection of portraits, 'Redheads.' All of his subjects are redheads (clearly) and they really are quite something. From the book,

"Photographing redheads was so compelling that I cast my net even wider. I ran an ad in the local paper, the Provincetown Advocate: "REMARKABLE PEOPLE! If you are a redhead or know someone who is, I'd like to make your portrait, call…." They began coming to my deck, bringing with them their courage and their shyness, their curiosity and their dreams, and also their stories of what it is like to be redheaded. There were the painful remembrances of childhood, the violations of privacy—"Hey, 'Red'," "freckle face," "carrot head." They also shared with me their sense of personal victory at having overcome this early celebrity, how like giants or dwarfs or athletes they had grown into their specialness and, by surviving, had been ennobled by it. You could say that they had been baptized by their fire and that their shared experience had formed a "blood knot" among them. I had begun making portraits with the intention of photographing ordinary people. But redheads are both ordinary and special."

I never really had the painful redheaded experiences like those above, but I am interested in any bond--physical or otherwise-- that brings random people together in a general understanding. These little bonds are what make our silly New York world tick, leveling the playing field when we realize that, 'Oh! We both summer at the cape!' 'Seriously!? I grew up 10 miles from there!' 'Don't you hate shopping for pants with such a long inseam!? It's so frustrating!' It's a rare loveliness, isn't it? Watching those 'blood knots' form?

The book is worth your time, both for the conceptual insight from a group of people who make up less than 2% of the worlds population(!) and also for the sheer talent of Meyerowitz at capturing the human spirit so generously. More here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Black Swan

Alison and I agreed that our Saturday was really about as perfect as they come-- so perfect that I'm going to tell you about it. We started the day with brunch-and-cheesecake at the New Apollo Diner downtown Brooklyn; attended the greatest craft sale in the world at the Starrett-Lehigh Building on W 26th street (have you been inside!? Those windows!); talked with a man as passionate about glitter as I am ('This glitter in particular is EXTREMELY useful,' he said in all seriousness while showing us the snow pack); saw the best movie I've seen all year; stopped for a glass of wine in a random Chelsea bar where we've NEVER been more popular; and ended the night in Williamsburg at a housewarming/Hanukkah party with a backyard and a bonfire and the best latkes on this side of the East River. Should I have used commas in place of semi-colons in that sentence? Who cares, it was perfection! But let's talk about the movie, or I'll go on for days about glitter.

Black Swan. Black Swan
is the story of Nina, a New York City ballet dancer played by a dramatically changed Natalie Portman, and her pursuit of a single dream. Nina lives at home with a controlling mother, tends toward bulimia and compulsive scratching, and doesn't have any life experience to speak of. She eats grapefruit for breakfast and sleeps in a room dressed in teddy bears. She's timid and dedicated and quiet and is suddenly handed the role of a lifetime-- Swan Queen in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

But alongside the iconic white swan, crowned in feathers and sparkles, and white, white, white!, Nina is also asked play her evil doppleganger-- the Black Swan. SEDUCE ME!, the director (Vincent Cassel) cries, while grabbing at her skinny limbs in want and in anger. He maintains that she’s suited only for half the double role, but offers both parts anyway as a sort of sick fascination with watching a little girl crack into a woman. It's a brilliant set-up: asking the Purest Dancer of All to lose control. And there our story begins.

I read somewhere that Darren Aronofsky tended toward a tight camera angle on the back of Portman's neck for much of Black Swan to hint at paranoia. We, the audience, therefore play the part of 'stalker'. By doing so, he brought the audience along with Nina in a rapid head game of feeling like someone is watching you, anticipating turning on the lights to someone standing there in the darkness.

The dancing is beautiful-- breathless at points-- thanks in no way to Aronofsky. It says something about ballet itself, as Aronofsky did his best to darken its shiny surface. He favorited cracking joints, quivering exhales, bleeding toes and emaciated backbones in place of the lightness we are used to. We see dancing swans through a shakey lens and the sound of heavy breathing. They become something else there before us-- puppets representing Dickensian archetypes: Good and evil. Right and wrong. Pure and tainted. Tchaikovsky's violins start to scream and that music will never sound the same, I assure you.

The movie could have been made about go-carts, Portman stated in an interview, making the point that it isn't about ballet at all in the end. But I disagree. The ballet world cradles such a story perfectly, for the very reasons stated above. It's an incredibly soft backdrop for such a harsh story. Without it, Black Swan could feel too mean, too terrifying, too destructive to matter. But because of the ballet, this baby will win awards.

Yes, the film is GRUESEOME-- a horror film or close to it. I closed my eyes for at least 10 minutes of that, but so did everyone else around me. Don't even really know what happened in that hospital room with Winona Ryder, I just heard a lot of tearing flesh. Ick. Honestly, a good chunk of that could have been cut out, but I personally don't like gore to begin with. To me, it wasn't necessary in leading the psychological downfall, but I will say that the blood and guts did lend toward a PHYSICAL reaction from the audience, which absolutely has its place in the film's lasting impression. You will leave completely shaken, trust me, and will have to force your mind away from it when crawling into bed that first night. Shivers. I still can't think about it at bedtime, to be honest.

Black Swan is my favorite film of the year, hands down. Portman especially is more deserving of an Oscar than any actor in my memory. And if not an Oscar (I am by no means an expert on these things) than at least a nod at unwavering focus and commitment to her craft. Forget the year of intensive ballet training, severe dieting, 16 hour workdays to get her body to look and move the way it did, Portman's fluid transition from scared girl to psychotic tour-de-force kept us at attention for the full two hours.

You will exit the theater completely shaken and undone. You'll need to talk about it, laugh about it, scream about what you saw. It's visceral, and its supposed to be. As most good movies are, Black Swan is really about the Human Condition and how far we can be pushed before snapping. And the snapping, in the end, is only a few steps away from normal. Scary, indeed.

Friday, December 3, 2010

William Albert Allard

A shivering group of former Midwesterners (and one Alaskan!) arrived at Steven Kasher Gallery last night for the opening of William Albert Allard's photography exhibit, not knowing quite what to expect. Allard is a celebrated National Geographic photographer, and has been for almost 50 years, but we know him as 'Kate's dad's friend from Minnesota.'

We were greeted by the best possible addition to a gallery opening-- a coat check!!!-- alongside a warm group of appreciative viewers. The real other art-types are all down in Miami (without me) which perhaps added to the warmth and friendly tone of last night's Chelsea showing. Less pomp, more sincerity. (Sour grapes? Possibly.)

Allard's work is what you expect-- narrative, epic, impactful. The exhibit spans nearly five decades of large-scale color photographs and a selection of unique Polaroids that had us all itching to ditch our city jobs for that which would allow us time in Spain, in Mexico, and Argentina.

'National Geographic Photographer' might just be the most enviable job around, yessirry, and the photographer himself was kind, to boot. A lovely night in Chelsea--not at all expected and oh-so-refreshing for this stunted gallerina.

The show runs through January 8th, and is accompanied by a worthy catalog-- get thee to Kasher.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Jonathan Franzen at Book Court

I caught the tail end of Jonathan Franzen's reading at Book Court last night, on my tip toes in the back of a gorgeously literary crowd of worthy Brooklynites. The reading was no where on my agenda, but Book Court is a few blocks from my apartment and I was able to bop in last minute, as really anything can distract me from what I really should have been doing-- laundry.

He spoke about the book's source (a woman he met for 10 minutes at a party), the blocks (quitting a novel two years into the process), the beauties (metaphors working to his advantage), the cerulean warbler on the cover ("A likely poster-bird," he called it) and Oprah (they are bff now). I could all but hear the many aspiring writers in that room lapping up his wisdom like milk, and the female audience members swooning in unison. That man is attractive, yes sirry.

Franzen's casual and somewhat self deprecating responses to audience questions were refreshing from someone I only assumed would be harsh and jaded in person. But--turns out-- he finds his own characters humorous and interesting, which actually shifted my view a bit on the exhausting unhappiness with which he tends to sculpt. The brutality of it all is funny in the end, and thank goodness for that.

Also, I just realized that Franzen will be reading at McNally Jackson tonight, a few blocks from my office. Is he following me!??! Wouldn't be surprised.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Alfred Eisenstaedt

This rain! So terrible! I was in the worst mood this morning, dripping wet and freezing, but came across these Alfred Eisenstaedt photographs that cheered me up a bit.

Eisenstaedt's work is clearly a bit cliche at this point (re: kissing sailor), and while still reeking of sentiment, these photographs of children at a Parisian puppet theatre in 1963 seem fresh and honest, not as posed as some of his work. (The second shot is the moment that St. George slays the dragon-- so perfect! That little guy at the bottom, swoon!)

Stay dry, New York, and let's hope the temperature drops soon so that we can trade this rain for snow. Happy DECEMBER!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Speaking of Gatsby...

Someone somewhere found a sample page from Sylvia Plath’s copy of The Great Gatsby, above. It confirms the idea that great readers make great writers. (And I like that part too, Sylvia.)

I did my own underlining on a flight last week, en route to Omaha. I don't know why I bother underlining, as I'm usually the only eyes to read my favorite texts. I tend to hoard my best books for myself (I do! So terrible of me!) as I find that my friends often never read the novels I shove into their lives. My treasured books instead end up on a desk somewhere under a pile of mail, making the borrower guilty for not reading, and myself nervous for their whereabouts. I, on the other hand, love my books to death, pick them up often, and wish them the good night that they deserve.

I suppose that underlining helps us later find words and passages that once challenged, intrigued, shocked, or comforted. A writer will often nail a human emotion so exactly right that we feel cheated for not reading it before that moment, and worry that we will forget it later without a clear line drawn beneath its brilliance. "It's the ability to remind us of ourselves, of who we are in our essence, and at the same time deliver a revelation," Krauss once said about good fiction. So true.

There has been much underlining (and one found TYPO! Pg 142, last line. SCORE!) in Krauss's Great House, a few of which I'll share with you below. It's the least I can do, with the given knowledge that I probably won't loan you the book. Enjoy.

"When I first began to spend time in Belsize Park it made me queasy to see how carelessly Yoav and Leah treated the furniture that passed through their house, which constituted their father's, and their own, livelihood. They rested their bare feet and glasses of wine of Biedermeier coffee tables, left fingerprints on the vitrines, napped on the settees, ate off the Art Deco commodes, and occasionally even walked atop the long dining tables when it was the most convenient way of getting from on place to another in a room crowded with furniture."

"...and as he did I had a vision of our turret from the outside, a shining glass cabin containing two experiments in human life floating in a dark sea."

"And though I hadn't had more than three or four relationships, I already knew that each time the thrill of telling another the story of yourself wore off a little more, each time you threw yourself into it a little less, and grew more distrustful of an intimacy that always, in the end, failed to pass into true understanding."

"... those wonderful tree-lined roads planted with a ruler and a whip that you can only find in a place as anal about beauty as Europe."

Monday, November 22, 2010


Oskar Eustis, the Public Theater's Artistic Director, said it best-- that upon his first time seeing GATZ, he was transported. He "walked out into Soho that cold winter night convinced that The Great Gastby was the greatest American novel ever written." It took him a few days to come back to earth, he said, and to remember that Moby-Dick was actually the greatest American novel, and to start the process of bring it to The Public.

I would probably argue the Moby Dick promotion, but its only been three days since my viewing, and its possible my views will shift. I love this novel. Loved it the first time I read it, and drank in every single word on Friday night in what can best be described as a prayer. My mind started wandering exactly two times during the performance, both of which I mentally bookmarked, and reread later that evening from my own worn copy in my bed in Brooklyn, clinging to the haze.

I knew all about this play before seeing it-- read the stellar reviews, contributed to the buzz, and gawked with the masses regarding its odd format. It's a 8.5 hour play-- starts at 3pm, ends at 11:30-- that uses for its script the entire text of The Great Gatsby (that wonderful blue and white paperback copy we all read in High School), each and every word and no additions. The formula doesn't make sense, any of it, which is clearly part of its appeal. I was told I that I couldn't get a ticket, that the production has been sold out for months, but reader, please. I found myself there at the Public Theater on Friday afternoon, Playbill in hand, front row center, eagerly awaiting what would surely be an eight hour thrill.

The show opens in a drab office in a nondescript industry, somewhere in America. A khaki-wearing redheaded someone enters the space, hangs his coat, and reaches to turn on his outdated clunky computer. The computer won't start, he tries again, murmurs to a coworker or two who have entered looking bored-as-all-get-out, and suddenly, VOILA!, our leading lady of a book pops from a Rolodex as we all audibly adjusted forward in our seats to discover how the hell this was going to play out.

Our redhead flips to the first page, and slowly begins reading the novel aloud-- seemingly for the first time-- and clunkily starts the ride. I knew it would work, that we would soon be successfully transported to East Egg from Office Building Somewhere, but those first twenty minutes were key to drawing in an audience in dulled mass confusion only to charm our socks off four short hours later.

Scott Shepherd, the redhead, of Elevator Repair Service took on the role of Nick Carraway--that daunting task of narrating the show and speaking all but the scattered dialogue aloud-- although I'm pretty sure he was actually playing Jimmy Stewart playing Nick Carraway, which was a fantastic decision on his part. His voice dipped and clung, a melody of normalcy that we recognize from an era gone by.

Literary snobs love to cry disappointment to adaptations of classic novels, arguing that they shouldn't be touched, and cannot be approved upon. But this is different-- its as if Collins always wanted to remake Gatsby, but understood the task as a setup for gigantic failure, as all abridged versions are. Then he decided to not take anything out, read it in its entirety, and completely dismiss the idea of costuming and set design all together. We already know what it looks like, you see. We don't need him to tell us, the book does that just fine. (THIS was just announced, by the way, and its two leading men actually sat behind me at Friday's production, ha!)

It is with this attempt that we can't argue the execution because we all saw the story as we saw it the first time we read Gastby, and I will bet that most of us geeks sitting there for all 8.5 hours read it every year. I could tell you here, exactly what happened on that stage, but even I am unbelieving of it now. The famous twinkling party scene at Gatsby's manner was played out as the cast cleaned up papers and spilled whiskey and note cards strewn across the floor from the 'Myrtle Apartment' scene right before. Jordan Baker served as our comedic relief, and the swimming pool was played by a leather couch. Gastby wore a magenta suit, and Daisy was brunette. None of it adds up, which is the point of it all, you see.

I left the theater upon its intricate and compelling conclusion understanding the real feat of whole thing: GATZ is a true testament to the human mind and the scope of an often neglected grown-up imagination. It's also a testament to good theater and to good writing and--let us not forget-- the book itself, but it is the human mind that takes us from a theater, to an office, to Southampton Proper without explanation. I've written about this before-- my annoyance at too-literally-executed set designs on Broadway and Off-- and GATZ all but laughs at big budget attempts to create a castle, when their audience is fully capable of building one themselves.

Why the office? It was someplace to start-- a challenge, I presume, of John Collins to his actors. It was also about READING BOOKS, and turning off our computers and ipads and droids, sitting down with a book, which come to think of it, is the same message we received from the other show I saw last week. Interesting. At any rate, the show closes with Nick seated at his desk, after a slow stripping of office supplies and papers and the computer itself, sometime in the past 4 acts. I thought perhaps they would nod back to the office setting at the end, fixing the computer and returning to daily life, but they didn't and I'm glad. It was the quiet ending Fitzgerald offered, so we left still in Gatsby's world, and not our own.

GATZ is closing on the 28th, so SEE IT. This show is magic, I mean it, and despite what you will hear, there are tickets to be found.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Modern Art

Great print by Craig Damrauer. Smart, but also a nice design and a bit cheecky*.

*(Listening to too many Prince William interviews, my mind has started speaking with a British accent. And NO, I'm not excited about Will and Kate. UGH. Dreams shattered.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Having a Coke with You

Well, this is nice! Some poetry for your Friday. (That picture up there has nothing to do with it, but its one I took a while ago that I really like.) Enjoy and happy weekend!

Having a Coke with You

by Frank O'Hara

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvellous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Dinner Diaries

Loved this little piece from the New Yorker News Desk blog. It reminded me of this entry by Molly Wizenburg of Orangette (the part about Nibbler just about does me in!).

That's all. Enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Turkeys In Pilgrim Clothing

This American Life has been breaking my heart a lot recently, what, with that episode about unconventional love? Don't be fooled by the sweet title, folks, its about a family having to put their son in a home. And the other story is about a woman who adopts a child raised in terrible circumstances in a Romanian orphanage and is unable to feel attachments to anyone...and what they do about it. I mean, really, Ira. Then there were the last two episodes about the economic crisis and then one about the Tea Party, and while they were completely well done and important and thoughtful, they weren't funny and you do funny so very well!

However. Back in the TAL archives, there exists a really fantastic episode about Thanksgiving. The hilarious Sarah Vowell examines "what happens when television takes on a subject it really has no business exploring at all, but seems fairly obsessed with nonetheless: The Pilgrims." It's a mockery of American pop culture and of a holiday that makes us a little uncomfortable when actually considering its roots.

Have you read William Bradford? I have! And I highly recommend it, actually, although its a pain to get through. It's the original text from Plymouth, THE primary source, told in his seventeenth century tongue. It's gory and intelligent and raw, and makes you feel like a slightly better American for understanding what really took place on that first Thanksgiving. Read it. OR listen to Sarah Vowell talk about it.

In the meantime, I'll be brushing up on my pie making skills. Happy holidays, New York.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of A Misspent Life

"John, we are taking a decorating class."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Well, let's just mix it up a bit! It sounds interesting! I signed us up, you are going."
"Where is it? Brooklyn?"

And thus our night began.

I don't really know what inspired me to sign up for a decorating class to begin with, let alone a class with a woman who claims to value clutter and unmade beds, but it was held at Anthropologie, John is usually up for anything, and I was in the mood for something other than dinner.

I feel like I've been at a party since the middle of October, taking cabs home late and needing bagels in the morning. I was in the mood to do something inspiring, instead of thought-provoking. Not a movie. Not a book reading. Not a show. I didn't want to have to mingle and I didn't want to strain my senses to impress anyone. I basically wanted to hang out with a room full of Me's, and will not apologize for that. No boys allowed, you see.

We were greeted with gingerbread cookies and fancy Missoni San Pellegrino sparkling water by a stunning woman in a one-piece jumpsuit wearing a huge smile and generous spirit. Mary Randolph Carter, or Carter as she prefers, led the course, and for a brief hour and a half let us into her world.

She is a woman who adores living, simply put. Her passion is infectious, and as she danced around a few of her belongings-- yard sale paintings, handmade linens, mix-matched porcelain teacups-- we too started smiling and relaxing and loving it all in unison. She used the word 'love' so often that she began stopping herself, although I wish she wouldn't have. 'I love these curtains!' 'I love these little dogs.' 'I love using painters' palates in place of placemats!!!' 'I hate sofas, I really do, but I love covering them with pillows and wool blankets and beautiful things." Just insane enough to make us feel comfortable. A real nut.

Yet her enthusiasm swirled around the vibrantly set table, fit for a mad-hatter or wild poet, or Monica on Friends, and landed on our tongues. She taught us to fall in love with our surroundings and to create homes for living in, and to leave the housekeeping for the birds. She's the anti-Martha you might say (although Martha and Carter have been 'friends for years!') and thank goodness for that. Our homes should rise up and greet us, she sang. They should be a reflection of the people who live there. They should make us feel happy, alive, and like our own Best Selves.

In the end, it was just what I needed. She's an artist, really, although she doesn't paint, her home is her canvas. (A peek, here!) I asked her about the painting, I assumed she did. I also asked her what music she would be playing during her Thanksgiving dinner and she said 'Coldplay. Or Cole Porter. Or both!' She has a new book out, called 'A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of A Misspent Life' with all of this included. Perfect, right? Such a good title.

I took the F train home that night feeling a little more like myself. I live on the Brooklyn side of the East River, just a hop from the Brooklyn Bridge, two lefts off the BQE. I walked in my door as I do every night, after shoving it in with my hip-- it sticks a bit. I was greeted by my varied paintings, my white duvet, my butcher block table, and my favorite poem on the fridge. My over-thought grey walls sat back and smiled; the shelving that I hung all by myself puffed out its chest in approval; and my tissue paper flowers all nodded hello. 'Hello, house,' I said aloud. I'm a nut myself, you see. Life is a little tricky right now, but it will get better. Sometimes all it takes is taking a night off and saying hello to the person that is you.

Thanks, Carter. Loved it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bing Crosby Christmas Album

I mentioned that I've been listening to Bing Crosby's Christmas album this morning to Little Sister, who immediately sent this little ditty my way:

"a couple of a teenage tune-smiths around hollywood here. mel torme and bob wells of pendenitum wrote a song that i consider quite appropriate for tonight. skitch i'd like to do it for ya. it's called the christmas song."

Bing Crosby's Christmas album is the best because he encourages you to sing along before EVERY carol. It's as if he's running one of those public radio fund-raising drives, asking for 'just ten dollars a month, to keep our programming strong', but instead of money he's asking us to 'sing along, wherever you are!' 'Just tap your toes!' 'Get into the Christmas cheer!'. It's amazing.

Also, he uses the phrase 'gee-wiz' while doing so three times throughout the recording. Em and I have it memorized, hence the Mel Torme bit above. That's not a lyric found online, people, that is honest-to-goodness memorization on her part. This album is in our BLOOD, yo.

And pulling out Bing's version of The First Noel or Jingle Bells or A Christmas Song, or White Christmas (!!!!) really is the best prescription for a bad mood, even if it's only November. NOT that I've been in a sour mood for the past day, FINE, week. Not that I've been slamming doors and rolling my eyes and pouting around listing off all the the terrible things about my little life that I normally hold dear.

I'm ready, dear reader. Ready for tinsel and lights and angels and shopping and garland and the other Garland. Bring it, Bing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jerry Saltz on Art Dealers

"Dealers, please don’t stop talking! Your galleries are special to me: They are wormholes, time machines, matter transporters, gardens of delight, shtetls, hellholes, mediocrities, meritocracies, Dixieland tunes, places to get to the bottom of things, voting booths, fun fairs, tranquilizer bullets, big trees, missing links, states of grace, secular temples, travel bureaus, shallow ends of the pool, deep ends of the ocean, shelters from the storm, nails in your back, stones in your shoe, vicious circles, and burning rings of fire.-Jerry Saltz

A friend sent this bit to me, from Saltz's column on Vulture. I always appreciate Saltz's unashamed nostalgia when writing about art. The world could use a bit more sincerity, don't you think? I know my little corner could.

Photo: Alexis Rockman, our Dec 2010 Basel: Miami cover artist, whom I interesting.

Monday, November 8, 2010

For The Marriage of Faustus and Helen

I spent my Sunday in the usual fashion-- at a high society poetry reading in the year 1920. The event took place at a mansion upstate, where the leaves trailing the Hudson held onto their autumnal glory just long enough to carry us home again that night. I had to pinch myself most of that day, both for unbelieving of the situation I found myself in, and also to stay awake. Lordy, Crane's poem is long and boring. At least the poem's reader didn't understand much of it either.

For The Marriage of Faustus and Helen

by Hart Crane


The mind has shown itself at times
Too much the baked and labeled dough
Divided by accepted multitudes.
Across the stacked partitions of the day—
Across the memoranda, baseball scores,
The stenographic smiles and stock quotations
Smutty wings flash out equivocations.

The mind is brushed by sparrow wings;
Numbers, rebuffed by asphalt, crowd
The margins of the day, accent the curbs,
Convoying divers dawns on every corner
To druggist, barber and tobacconist,
Until the graduate opacities of evening
Take them away as suddenly to somewhere
Virginal perhaps, less fragmentary, cool.

There is the world dimensional for
those untwisted by the love of things
irreconcilable ...

And yet, suppose some evening I forgot
The fare and transfer, yet got by that way
Without recall,—lost yet poised in traffic.
Then I might find your eyes across an aisle,
Still flickering with those prefigurations—
Prodigal, yet uncontested now,
Half-riant before the jerky window frame.

There is some way, I think, to touch
Those hands of yours that count the nights
Stippled with pink and green advertisements.
And now, before its arteries turn dark
I would have you meet this bartered blood.
Imminent in his dream, none better knows
The white wafer cheek of love, or offers words
Lightly as moonlight on the eaves meets snow.

Reflective conversion of all things
At your deep blush, when ecstasies thread
The limbs and belly, when rainbows spread
Impinging on the throat and sides ...
Inevitable, the body of the world
Weeps in inventive dust for the hiatus
That winks above it, bluet in your breasts.

The earth may glide diaphanous to death;
But if I lift my arms it is to bend
To you who turned away once, Helen, knowing
The press of troubled hands, too alternate
With steel and soil to hold you endlessly.
I meet you, therefore, in that eventual flame
You found in final chains, no captive then—
Beyond their million brittle, bloodshot eyes;
White, through white cities passed on to assume
That world which comes to each of us alone.
Accept a lone eye riveted to your plane,
Bent axle of devotion along companion ways
That beat, continuous, to hourless days—
One inconspicuous, glowing orb of praise.


Brazen hypnotics glitter here;
Glee shifts from foot to foot,
Magnetic to their tremulo.
This crashing opera bouffe,
Blest excursion! this ricochet
From roof to roof—
Know, Olympians, we are breathless
While nigger cupids scour the stars!

A thousand light shrugs balance us
Through snarling hails of melody.
White shadows slip across the floor
Splayed like cards from a loose hand;
Rhythmic ellipses lead into canters
Until somewhere a rooster banters.

Greet naively—yet intrepidly
New soothings, new amazements
That cornets introduce at every turn—
And you may fall downstairs with me
With perfect grace and equanimity.
Or, plaintively scud past shores
Where, by strange harmonic laws
All relatives, serene and cool,
Sit rocked in patent armchairs.

O,I have known metallic paradises
Where cuckoos clucked to finches
Above the deft catastrophes of drums.
While titters hailed the groans of death
Beneath gyrating awnings I have seen
The incunabula of the divine grotesque.
This music has a reassuring way.

The siren of the springs of guilty song—
Let us take her on the incandescent wax
Striated with nuances, nervosities
That we are heir to: she is still so young,
We cannot frown upon her as she smiles,
Dipping here in this cultivated storm
Among slim skaters of the gardened skies.


Capped arbiter of beauty in this street
That narrows darkly into motor dawn,—
You, here beside me, delicate ambassador
Of intricate slain numbers that arise
In whispers, naked of steel;
religious gunman!
Who faithfully, yourself, will fall too soon,
And in other ways than as the wind settles
On the sixteen thrifty bridges of the city:
Let us unbind our throats of fear and pity.

We even,
Who drove speediest destruction
In corymbulous formations of mechanics,—
Who hurried the hill breezes, spouting malice
Plangent over meadows, and looked down
On rifts of torn and empty houses
Like old women with teeth unjubilant
That waited faintly, briefly and in vain:

We know, eternal gunman, our flesh remembers
The tensile boughs, the nimble blue plateaus,
The mounted, yielding cities of the air!

That saddled sky that shook down vertical
Repeated play of fire—no hypogeum
Of wave or rock was good against one hour.
We did not ask for that, but have survived,
And will persist to speak again before
All stubble streets that have not curved
To memory, or known the ominous lifted arm
That lowers down the arc of Helen’s brow
To saturate with blessing and dismay.

A goose, tobacco and cologne
Three winged and gold-shod prophecies of heaven,
The lavish heart shall always have to leaven
And spread with bells and voices, and atone
The abating shadows of our conscript dust.

Anchises’ navel, dripping of the sea,—
The hands Erasmus dipped in gleaming tides,
Gathered the voltage of blown blood and vine;
Delve upward for the new and scattered wine,
O brother-thief of time, that we recall.
Laugh out the meager penance of their days
Who dare not share with us the breath released,
The substance drilled and spent beyond repair
For golden, or the shadow of gold hair.

Distinctly praise the years, whose volatile
Blamed bleeding hands extend and thresh the height
The imagination spans beyond despair,
Outpacing bargain, vocable and prayer.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer

“Jonathan Safran Foer, deftly deploys sculptural means to craft a truly compelling story. In our world of screens, he welds narrative, materiality, and our reading experience into a book that remembers that it actually has a body.”
–Olafur Eliasson

I WANT THAT. You can purchase it for me HERE.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Corrections

There exists a very specific theme in Jonathan Franzen's novels-- a character flaw that he nails with a specificity so many novels are lacking. The theme is that of 'good' vs 'evil' but with a minutia lens. I'm Not A Good Person, his talking heads silently scream from behind straight A's and strong work ethics and career successes and good parenting. I Am Going To Hurt You, And When I Do, Don't Say I Didn't Warn You.

Both Patty and Denise (Freedom, and The Corrections, respectively) act it out, cowering in the arms of married others, in the shadows hidden from husbands and fathers and their own conscious selves. Sure, you can blame adolescent disruptions but Franzen doesn't seem to be driving home any real messages of the harm of date rape and infidelity. He pushes more radically the idea that even the good girls carry a burden: The burden of feigning morality.

We are used to meeting villains and good faeries and soft monsters. We swell at the idea of 'growing a heart' or 'learning to love', and we expect it (read: Great Expectations, The Museum of Innocence, The Grinch, Beauty and the Beast). Franzen introduces a lesser idea of Evil being confused for Good.

This theme is first carried out by both Patty and Denise as a sort of defense, or reasoning, for doing wrong. 'Well, I slept with that married man because I'm not a good person', they quack darkly behind a sensible veneer. 'It's not wrong if its done by a Bad Person.' The catch is that we will never hate them, as is standard with most Immoral Villains of literature late. Alternately, Franzen shaped us with his tricky potter's wheel to respect both characters as our own sisters, mothers, or selves. Sure, Denise broke up a marriage, lost her job, and feels no remorse-- its her way of proving to herself and the world at large that she wasn't Good to begin with. We know better. It's with this observation of the Human Condition that Franzen so viciously attacks us. Instead of offering platitudes of the masses, he gives us people we know, can imagine, or are.

I loved this novel.

It ate me alive (oh, let our parents never grow old) but I savored the structure and detailing and meat of it all. Franzen knows how to carve a story and when to switch voices just when we've gained interest. (The structure here reminded me so much of those AWESOME Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Super Mysteries. Remember those!? So good.) He's a master at playing hard to get, and we fall for it hook line and sinker.

From Chip, in his heartbreaking and unguided innocence to Gary and his angry neurosis and comical injustices, we follow a family of five during the most tumultuous year in each of their own lives. They are forced together by an overbearing mother as they scramble like flowers from Pepé Le Pew. The mood is dark but the interactions are shockingly kind, as they gather together for one last Christmas with an ailing father who will absolutely break your heart. I loved Chip's observations in that last chapter, when he arrived home from Lithuania. "I'm the least sad person at this table" he thinks, after literally surviving war.

As in Freedom, Franzen offers a view of the Midwest so very familiar to East Coast transplants (such as Franzen and, well, me.) He touches on the uncomfortable and unwarranted guilt that we feel for judging the land that raised us. We wish we could love Christmas the way we understood it from a cul-de-sac but somewhere between the Heartland and Midtown we were robbed of it and feel only a prickly angst for no longer understanding its worth. He isn't degrading it, he's mourning it like the rest of us. It isn't 'less', its just left behind.

I think that The Corrections is my favorite title of a book, ever. The word is echoed throughout the text so carefully that I found myself digging my heels in in hopes of understanding the point of it all early. You see, Franzen doesn't give it up too soon. He makes us work a bit before we realize, 'oh, that book was about Enid all along'. It was first Chip's story, with his final corrections on that sad little screenplay. Then maybe the Corektall tie in, or Denise's treatment of Robin, correcting every flaw. But it's Enid's story in the end, and I loved that. We find her there, on the final page in a hopeful new beginning. Thank you for that, Jonathan. Cheers to ending both of your novels with a completely unsuspecting and all together unwarranted grace.

There is so much more to say here, about this readable novel and its insanely flawed characters. But I've been trying to write it all down for three days and maybe we should just discuss it over dinner, wanna? Let's go to Denise's new restaurant on Smith Street and do just that.

NOW, onto Great House. Get excited.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Color

I read an article in National Geographic during the fall of 2001 called 'The Color'. I've been trying to find it online for the past 2 days, like an absolute crazy person, and I guess I've come to the conclusion that it just isn't there. Upsetting, to say the least. (I can even remember the first three sentences of that article. Come on, Google! Help a girl out.)

But the point is this. 'The Color' is peaking right now all over New England. I sat awake on a northbound bus last weekend at dusk, mesmerized by the sharp reds, the deep oranges, the shifting yellows. And it isn't just the leaves that peak, that's the thing! There is something in the air causing the shift, if only I had the article to explain the science to you all. The light that passes through the clouds each October is at such a perfect pitch that it saturates the color of everything you see. The bricks! The trees! That water! Your silly preppy socks!

I drank in that Color this weekend in Cambridge, Massachusetts while visiting a dear friend at Harvard. We scurried from brunch to the big rowing race to The Purple Shamrock with lots of hot coffee and intermittent giggling.

Pay attention right now, New Yorkers. Get out of town or get thee to Central Park. The Color will eventually fade into soft December and you don't want to miss it.