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!