Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hills Like White Elephants

WHILE WE'RE ON THE SUBJECT... this story came to mind when considering Blue Valentine as a story without a middle. Hemingway's short 'Hills Like White Elephants' is alternately a story without a beginning or an end. It's a snapshot of a conversation and a portrait of a relationship written almost 90 years prior to Blue Valentine but with an equally deft portrayal of a difficult and unfair conversation.

A taste:

The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.

‘They look like white elephants,’ she said.

‘I’ve never seen one,’ the man drank his beer.

‘No, you wouldn’t have.’

‘I might have,’ the man said. ‘Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.’

The girl looked at the bead curtain. ‘They’ve painted something on it,’ she said. ‘What does it say?’

Anis del Toro. It’s a drink.’

‘Could we try it?’

The man called ‘Listen’ through the curtain. The woman came out from the bar.

‘Four reales.’ ‘We want two Anis del Toro.’

‘With water?’

‘Do you want it with water?’

‘I don’t know,’ the girl said. ‘Is it good with water?’

‘It’s all right.’

‘You want them with water?’ asked the woman.

‘Yes, with water.’

‘It tastes like liquorice,’ the girl said and put the glass down.

‘That’s the way with everything.’

‘Yes,’ said the girl. ‘Everything tastes of liquorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.’

‘Oh, cut it out.’

‘You started it,’ the girl said. ‘I was being amused. I was having a fine time.’

‘Well, let’s try and have a fine time.’

‘All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn’t that bright?’

‘That was bright.’

‘I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do, isn’t it – look at things and try new drinks?’

I love that last line. It reminds me of something Daisy would say. And that drink reminds me of the "Americano" served at Locanda Vini E Olii, where that photo was taken up top. LOVE that place. It also reminds me that I want to visit Spain. And that Hemingway was ahead of his time.

Full text here.

Blue Valentine

I saw Blue Valentine this weekend with three girls, each smarter than the next, fully ready to analyze the hell out of this little film about a big bad relationship. We did so afterward at a tiny table in Nolita, sipping on beer with upset eyes and differing opinions. There is just so much to say!

Blue Valentine is tragic-- head to toe. It starts out lonely and ends hurtfully. I don't think it needed to be this mean, to be honest, but I guess therein lies the great big question of what makes fiction good, necessary, and transcendent.

Iris Murdoch once described love as "the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality." This is the secret of fiction. It offers a challenge—a challenge to try to understand that other people are real in the same way we are. That they are as complex, as sensitive, as capable of being hurt. Similarly, my girl Nicole describes fiction as "the ability to remind us of ourselves, of who we are in our essence, and at the same time deliver a revelation."

This is a surprisingly difficult thing to remember when entering movie world, as we tend to separate it fully from real life. We want to see OURSELVES up there, on that screen. We tend to merge Michelle Williams' Cindy with our own persona's, ignoring the fact that Cindy is as real as we are and doesn't need that crutch of relativity too easily offered in contemporary verse. Ryan Gossling isn't our ex-boyfriend and that's not your father. Get it?

The present culture encourages the opposite idea, that it's all about you. Good fiction that rejects that idea, and Blue Valentine achieves this tricky balance better than most. It's mean, yes indeed, but the vicious fights and unfair circumstance only serve to underline what is, in it's essence, a truly honest and beautiful love story.

Friday, February 18, 2011

65 and Sunny

Talking about the weather always makes me feel like my grandparents (they LOVE the weather) but lordy, this is a gorgeous February day! Makes me want to sit outside and drink Corona. Or a margarita. And listen to Paul Simon.

Happy weekend, New York!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Zadie Smith: Changing My Mind

Holy smokes, this book is good. I've known about it for quite some time (ask John how many times I've carried it around in a bookstore before longingly putting it back in favor of the tall stack next to my bed at home) but finally bit the bullet and purchased a copy before my two super long travel days last weekend.

Smith opens with a quote by none other than Tracy Lord, 'The time to make your mind up about people is never!' and then has an entire chapter on Katherine Hepburn. Swoon! AND E.M. Forester, and Keats, and Chekhov, and her dad, and George Clooney. And D.F.W. (Using initials like that now makes me feel like a Scientologist. Did you all read this article!? Yikes!)

Changing My Mind is a refreshingly unique form of non-fiction writing. It's a collection of essays about, well, things Smith wanted to write about, without the obligatory connective lens haphazardly found in so many non fiction essay collections out there. The randomness works for Smith because we trust her. She's smarter than we are, and has every right to do so.

Smith is good for girls like me. She gives us a backbone and an energy for critical thinking. She never halts for sentiment, but instead powers through the clutter of bad content and poor writing out there, demanding something better from each of us. In 2008, she refused to award a prize for her annual essay contest, crying mediocrity in each entry. (Seriously, read this, it's amazing.)

She is also, along with my lover, teaching courses just up the street at NYU as a recently tenured professor. Props, Z.S. Let's do lunch.

Monday, February 14, 2011


I've been in Las Vegas all weekend. Whew, it was a big one.
The weather was ideal. The sun felt amazing.
I got married by Elvis, just off the strip.
She did.
While there, we journeyed to Paris...
...and ancient Rome...
...and China.
But nothing made me more excited than walking around and finding...
bits of my New York.

Happy Valentines Day, my lovelies! It's so good to be back in Brooklyn.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Now, Now

Bradley (or as John likes to call him-- Boo-Radley. Get it?) Hale was in town last night with his band Now, Now-- formerly Now, Now Every Children-- playing a show at The Highline Ballroom. The show was delightful and strong and polished-- much like the man himself.

We had dinner in Chelsea post performance, where we talked about Brad's new life as a rock star, his European tour, how John used to make us lay on his floor in college and listen to Sigur Rós with our eyes closed, and about the time Brad left my dorm room senior year with my bra accidentally caught in the hood of his sweatshirt. Sorry about that, Boo-Rad.

And look! Now, Now is soon going to blow up before our eyes, even Interview wrote about them. Have fun in Boston, guys, and come back soon.

ALSO: Brad is an insanely talented graphic designer/printer/artist. He is doing freelance work on the road, and you should hire him. More here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Ice Storm

My favorite ice storm movie? The Ice Storm!

I have a coworker who upon having her second set of twins moved from the Upper East Side to Westchester County. She told me a few months ago that in order to understand her life, I needed to watch this movie. Being the voyeur that I am, I rented it that night and sat in horror over everything but the fashion. Yikes, Leslie!