Thursday, June 30, 2005

One card to ride them all

This certainly isn't the first time they've talked about it, and you have to keep in mind the glacial pace at which most transit systems change, but still ... Here's a sensational idea that's long overdue: a one fare card/"smart card" system for all of the region's subways, buses and trains, which was announced yesterday by the Port Authority of N.Y. & N.J. A basic agreement is expected to be signed later this summer between the MTA, NJ Transit and PATH, which is run by the bistate agency.

Getting these three systems on the same page would be a tremendous step forward, and it can't happen soon enough as far as I'm concerned. The different payment systems is a hassle for locals (especially those who travel throughout the tri-state area) and unnecessarily confusing for visitors. ("Can I use my PATH QuickCard the same as the MTA MetroCard or no? ... And why aren't the underground trains the Metro if it's a MetroCard?")

Someday, my friends, someday, the transit system will be as easy and satisfying to use as idealistic urban-planning students imagine it could be. Or not ...

"A fact is not a truth until you love it"

When I heard that Shelby Foote had died, at the age of 88, I immediately thought of Ken Burns' landmark PBS documentary The Civil War. Certain names stick out so clearly from that film, which is so very long and yet so very good in just the right doses: Among them are Jay Ungar's song "Ashokan Farewell," Sullivan Ballou's farewell letter to his wife, and Shelby Foote's interviews and narrations throughout the episodes. I thought it was fitting that his obituary should mention his moment in the sun, when the widest possible audience learned of his great work and heard his timeless voice.

The title quote is one of Foote's. Another great quote can be found at the end of this PBS transcript where he talks about how people once thought of the United States as being a plural, as deserving a plural verb, whereas "after the war, it was always 'the United States is,' as we say today without being self-conscious at all. And that sums up what the war accomplished. It made us an 'is.'"

A well-designed architecture blog

Most blogs go up and down on your screen, scrolling in a vertical fashion, but this budding architect's blog that I came across -- dubbed "That Brutal Joint" -- scrolls horizontally (and vertically, for longer posts). Read left to right, it almost has the feel of flipping through a newspaper like the column-heavy Wall Street Journal. Very excellent design; I enjoy it.

Amtrak's long hauls not dead yet

In honor of Daryl's cross-country trip on the 46-hour Empire Builder, some Amtrak news: The House voted yesterday to restore funding for the nationwide passenger railroad to about where it is this year in a spending bill currently making its way through Congress. If the Senate concurs and Bush somehow holds his nose and signs the measure, it means several long-haul routes such as the one Daryl's taking will likely live to see another year.

An interesting tidbit from the article: The Empire Builder receives a $172 subsidy per passenger. And the southerly transnational route (the Sunset Limited from L.A. to Orlando) gets a whopping $466 for each butt in a seat.

One can see how politicians perpetually harping on maximum "efficiency" in government-subsidized entities would be peeved by such price tags, but maintaining a large (enough) and useful rail system is part of what a nation can do for its citizens. The Bush administration had been attempting to force reforms on the railroad by cutting its money, but isn't it possible to make the system better without shutting down huge sections of it first?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Out of all the blocks

Out of all the blocks in the city, mine has to be the one with the cable internet outage!

The new design for the Freedom Tower

The first pictures of David M. Childs' redesign came out today and my first reaction was good: It has an attractive profile, which evokes the old, while still feeling new. I wouldn't mind seeing this on the skyline five years hence. As I read the exhaustive details laid out in the NYT article, I continued to like the ideas, including the current look of the spire and the way the building changes from square-shaped floors to octagonal ones and back to square floors.
Some things stuck out to me, though: The energy windmills are gone and the shape of the building is not as Daniel Libeskind had intended it. In fact, almost everything except the name and the height seem to have been changed by Childs and his firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Which doesn't have to be a bad thing, but just shows how the numerous interests have shifted the focus from a more daring design to a more monolithic one, akin to the original towers.
This big ground-level concrete pedestal with the glass tower above -- which is also the idea behind World Trade Center 7 -- really reminds me of the way the Statue of Liberty is built. But while the top of Libeskind's tower evoked the curve of Liberty's torch-holding arm, Childs' version mimics the statue's more practical side: its base. An opportunity to soar for the heights is once again grounded by bureaucratic compromise.

Tigger and Piglet

Anyone who watched Winnie the Pooh cartoons as a kid might be interested/saddened to hear that two of the voice talents died recently -- and only a day apart. John Fiedler (who played Piglet) and Paul Winchell (who played Tigger -- "T-I-double-gh-errrrrr") passed away last week. Slate talks about how their cartoon personas live on, with "sound-alikes."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Nice trimaran, man

I don't know much about sailing, but from what I can gather, this is the Idec Trimaran [site in French] that yachtsman Francis Joyon used to break the solo circumnavigation record last year. (The record was broken again by 29-year-old Ellen MacArthur earlier this year.)

Based on a rough translation of an online post from his site [Info du Jour], it appears he's waiting for a favorable window to take another stab at the trans-Atlantic record, while MacArthur also has her eye on the same goal.

I snapped this photo late last week at the marina in front of the World Financial Center.

Stanford White, continued

Shortly after I wrote that post about Stanford White, the famous architect who met a scandalous end, I discovered there's a show playing right now that depicts the famous love triangle a little bit more in depth than Ragtime does.

My Sweetheart's the Man in the Moon is at the 14th Street Y through July 10. The NYT review says the people behind this production certainly did their homework, but "its respectable tone" -- which the writer compares to PBS's "Masterpiece Theater" -- "seems to miss the point." He says there aren't enough whiffs of the scandalous stuff, which made the story so notorious in the first place, to have the story strike the right vibe.

And while I'm on the topic, here's a list of some buildings in the city (past and present) designed by McKim, Mead and White:

The hard part is reading it all

Now, for the "discount" price of $7,989.99, you can own the English-language canon of literature! (Or at least Penguin's 1,082-title version of it.) One online reviewer calls it "really tempting" and estimates they're going for "about two years worth of gasoline." Or half a year in a New York studio apartment. Or nearly nine years of monthly MetroCards. Or around 18 ounces of gold (at its current rate).
The complete collection weighs 700 pounds, and has somehow managed to rise through the Amazon book charts to #20,510 since it became available earlier this month. I want to know why Amazon isn't trying to sell you a new set of bookshelves to house all your new volumes!
Oh, and they're paperbacks, too, not hardcovers. So they aren't as likely to last as long: Remember in college how quickly those Penguin Classics fell apart from just a few readings -- if, say, you bought them in the used section of the textbook stores?

New subway rules?

So it looks like the MTA is really going to vote for some new rule changes, including no more moving from one car to another while the train is in motion. I don't know how I feel about this. Yes, it's dangerous, but sometimes you want to move, and sometimes it's to get away from smells, heat, or other people. And you don't always want to have to wait until you get to the next station. Already, the MTA isn't very good with enforcing one of their pre-existing rules: No panhandling. But in a way, perhaps this new crossing-between-cars rule will help cut down on that as well, since a lot of people selling things or begging for money make their way through the train that way. Who knows ... we'll have to see how it all works in practice. At least snapping photos is still allowed.

"I don't think I've ever drunk champagne before breakfast before."

Hung out with a college friend and her work friend and his college friend tonight at a bar called Varjak on Eighth Avenue near West 55th Street in Hell's Kitchen/Midtown West. Yes, it's named after Paul "Fred" Varjak from Breakfast at Tiffany's, but they don't overdo the connection: Just two small photos from the movie -- the kiss in the rain and Holly with the cigarette holder, I think -- in the back near the restroom. Instead, the walls are covered with original local art.

It's a narrow little bar with a few tables in back, but they have nightly jazz, fresh fruit cocktails, Guinness on tap, an assortment of wines, and a nice overall vibe. Around 10, a singer and a jazz combo set up in the front-window alcove and started playing. We didn't stick around for a whole set, but they seemed pretty talented. And if you wanted to talk, you could still hear each other, and if you wanted to listen, it was loud enough.

Monday, June 27, 2005

This utterly smashed-up BMW has been sitting outside a police station at 54th and 8th. It looks like a prop out of an action movie, it's so ruined. What happened?!?!?

Stanford White, twice

The name White -- Stanford White -- came up twice for me Saturday.

The first time was on Governors Island. His famous architectural firm, McKim, Mead & White, which is known for many top buildings in the city, designed the massive barracks there known as Liggett Hall. Also dubbed Building 400, the 1930 structure -- which feels very collegiate -- was built to house an entire regiment. It stretches across a tree-lined walk, measures some 400,000 square feet in size, and was supposedly one of the -- if not the -- largest military building in the U.S. prior to the construction of the Pentagon.

Then I heard White's name again in Ragtime. He wasn't actually around when the big barracks was built, since he died in 1906. He was shot and killed in the second Madison Square Garden (a building his firm designed) at the hands of a millionaire who was married to one of White's former lovers, one Evelyn Nesbit -- a vaudeville actress and ripped-from-the-headlines character in the musical.

The murder was dubbed the "Crime of the Century," a name skewered by some lyrics in the show: "And although the newspapers called the shooting the Crime of the Century, [Emma] Goldman knew it was only 1906 ... / And there were ninety-four years to go!" Other subsequent crimes, such as the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, would receive that dubious title as well.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

A visit to Governors Island

Ferries to Governors Island currently pull away from Slip 7 of the Battery Maritime Building, which is undergoing renovations. Scaffolding fills slips 5 and 6 (Slip 4 was an open-air one, and the other three are in the Staten Island terminal).

The Brooklyn Bridge and an empty helipad visible through a ferry window.

Pulling away from the dock, you can see the two terminals side by side as well as the office buildings and hotels right above the Battery.

Another view of Lower Manhattan. The ferry ride only took a few minutes.

One of the structures most visible from Manhattan is the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel ventilation building. The 1.7-mile tunnel, finished in 1950, is the longest such passage built for cars in North America.

Originally named because of its use as a colonial governor's residence, the island has been in the hands of the military for much of its history, until the Coast Guard, which had a major headquarters and training center there, left in the mid-1990s. Two prominent buildings include Castle Williams and Fort Jay, both completed around the beginning of the 19th century.

Castle Williams is visible from the Battery and somewhat resembles Castle Clinton. It used to be a particularly notorious prison during the Civil War days, but one of the redevelopment ideas on the table is to turn it into a theater akin to Shakespeare's Globe, designed by Norman Foster, who did the new Reichstag in Germany, the renovation at the British Museum and the London Millennium Bridge.

Overall, the island has a deserted feel to it -- only a few tourists and the odd security guard -- but while some of the structures are showing signs of wear, a lot of the buildings look like they were just used. Like people just left one day but kept everything as it was. The residences seem very inhabitable, at least from the outside, and there are some great views of Manhattan. Daryl said it had the feel of a college campus in summer. We were only allowed to roam around about 22 acres of the 172-acre island.

For more photos, check out Flickr. (Sorry it's brief -- I reached my free limit for the month. Maybe I'll try posting more later.)

An out-of-use bus stop on (currently uninhabited) Governors Island, off the tip of Lower Manhattan. Jersey City with its Goldman Sachs Tower are visible through the mid-morning Saturday haze.

Mid-weekend update

No time for a full-fledged post. Instead, some quick hits:

The Trachtenburgs were pretty fun and quirky. I enjoyed their shtick and some of their music is kind of catchy ("Mountain trip ... to Japan ... nineteen-fifty-niiiiiine"). But -- I don't know whether the father in the band is just like this in general -- but he seemed rather embarrassed and nervous at times to be on stage in front of a sparse audience that didn't seem as thrilled by it all as I guess they should have been.

Governors Island was a peculiar experience -- an empty, deserted place mere hundreds of yards from the heart of the city -- but well worth a visit, I thought. Pictures and a slideshow to come.

Ragtime at the Paper Mill should be on your must-see list if you like musicals and a) you missed it the first time on Broadway, b) you didn't see any of the national tours, c) you enjoy a good, tuneful, coherent score with a well-integrated historical story that mixes facts and famous figures with fictional truth, or d) you enjoy seeing solid performances from not-so-well-known actors.

I also realized something again on Saturday: Don't book things too close together, especially if you're relying on weekend public transit schedules. I ended up seeing all that I'd planned, but I was late for the first morning ferry and also missed my first NJ Transit train at Penn Station.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Set sail for low, low prices!

I'm really borrowing this observation from someone I know, but doesn't the new Staten Island Ferry Terminal at Whitehall bear a striking resemblance to your typical Old Navy store? The lettering, the boxiness, the panes of glass, the overhang, etc.

Must be that whole nautical connection, I guess.

Hard to define; you know 'em when you see 'em

Curbed: Written by hipsters for hipsters, apparently. [See item #4]

"Kurt Andersen ... with Kung Fu Action Grip"

Remember those (slightly cheesy) personalized magazine covers you could get for people as gifts? Well there's an artist in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, who takes that idea to a whole new level (and price range). He crafts real action figures of (ostensibly) normal people that you know and love. Russell Tucker of Highly Flammable Toys appears on this weekend's "Studio 360," and for the occasion, created a toy version of program host Kurt Andersen, complete with accessories and collect-'em-all teasers on the back of the realistic-looking plastic packaging. (Andersen's was free of charge; if you want to get one, it'll cost $475.)

Basically, you gather photos and tidbits about the subject's life (either openly or in secret "detective" mode), send them off to Tucker, and he produces a one-of-a-kind work of art (he doesn't recommend actually playing with the action figures). Tucker says he aims for pieces based on somewhat truthful depictions of his subjects -- no (nonexistent) superpowers allowed, he insists during the interview with Andersen.

Idaho's SWEET House Resolution No. 29

I know this is old news, but I just watched Napoleon Dynamite the other night, so I have to post a link to the actual text of a Napoleon-inspired piece of legislation. I find it outstanding that a state legislative body can have such a sense of humor and realize a state-promotion opportunity when they see one. Since the 2004 movie was filmed on location in Idaho, they decided to tout its portrayal of the state's resources and values.

Some great excerpts: "WHEREAS, tater tots figure prominently in this film thus promoting Idaho's most famous export" ... "WHEREAS, Napoleon's bicycle and Kip's skateboard promote better air quality and carpooling as alternatives to fuel-dependent methods of transportation;" ... "WHEREAS, Kip's relationship with LaFawnduh is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho's technology-driven industry" ... "BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we, the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the State of Idaho, advocate always following your heart ..."

What's great about this resolution is that it takes an already deadpan but wholesome script (which is lightly suggestive at times, but features no overt sex or violence), and takes it a step further by riffing on it with sincerity and in the voice of the nation's laws.

On tap for this weekend

If all goes as planned this weekend, I'm going to be pretty busy.

Tonight: See the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players (12 more shows through the end of next month) at the Lamb's Theatre.

Tomorrow morning: Explore Governors Island (open to the public through Sept. 3).

Tomorrow afternoon: Watch Ragtime (through July 17) at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ.

Tomorrow night: Eat/drink at the Gaslight Brewery in South Orange.

Sunday afternoon: Visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

I'm going to need another day off just to recover from the weekend!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

"One need never leave"

And right across the way from Whitman, 20th-century poet Frank O'Hara is remembered with lines from his poem "Meditations in an Emergency," with its echo of Whitman's famous volume in the third line here:
One need never leave the / confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes -- I can't / even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there's a subway / handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not / totally regret life.
O'Hara (who died in 1966 at the age of 40 after a freak accident in which he was hit by a dune buggy on Fire Island) wrote one of my all-time favorite poems. It's called "Ave Maria" and it begins: "Mothers of America / let your kids go to the movies ..."

"Mad extravagant city!"

Ever since I made that comment about putting poetry on public structures, I've been encountering it all over town. I came across another one from Walt Whitman (a favorite for waterfront locations, it would seem) this evening. It's located right outside the Winter Garden in Battery Park City, and it's from Whitman's "City of Ships."
City of the world! (for all races are here; / All the lands of the earth make contributions here;) / City of the sea! city of hurried and glittering tides! / City whose gleeful tides continually rush or recede, whirling in and out, with eddies and foam! / City of wharves and stores! city of tall fa├žades of marble and iron! / Proud and passionate city! mettlesome, mad, extravagant city!

Spotted near Broadway and Chambers

You know, this Rob the $1 Tie Expert (who'd taken his wares and vamoosed by the time I got there) might be onto something. Accessorize your outfit with your office suite!

(Or does he mean hotel suite?)

A postscript to "The Paper"

I've consulted with the friend mentioned in my previous post, who strongly disagrees with me on my statement that The Paper is not a "masterpiece." It's No. 5 on his all-time list (the AFI be damned), and since he is the "objective truth," I guess I must defer to him. Also, his favorite quote from the movie in college was "Donald Trump jumped off a building and landed on Madonna," which amazingly still seems to hold up as a good tabloid story, considering the staying power of these two celebs. The only thing that would have made that quote better would be if it had been one of "his" buildings.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"This is great! It writes like butter -- I mean there is actual butter coming out of my pen."

My friend from high school used to repeat this quote to me all the time (either that or I'm totally making this up), and I'd look at him with a blank stare. He was shocked: I worked on the school paper and had never seen The Paper, that great 1994 Michael Keaton-Glenn Close movie?

Yes, it's taken me a decade to get around to it, but I finally ordered it from the library and watched it tonight. It's not a masterpiece, but it's definitely worth watching for anybody who's ever had newsprint running through their veins. That quote, spoken by Randy Quaid's character McDougal, is full of the rush of a hot story breaking on a tight deadline, and it was hilarious to actually hear it after all these years. It actually felt more like Quaid was quoting my friend, instead of the other way around.

The plot contrives one of those insane days where everything inside and outside of the tabloid newspaper world crashes together for several people typically chained to the newsroom. You can sort of imagine what's going to happen from the opening scene, when two (basically) innocent black teenagers happen upon a double murder of two white businessmen, framed to look like a racial slaying. There are a few surprises along the way, which keep it interesting, but it's mostly paint-by-numbers don't-you-love/hate-days-like-this drama.

As the film ages, a few things stick out for me:
  • The murders happen in Williamsburg, which I guess at the time was not quite the hip hangout that it's become today, especially what with the talk of potential race riots occurring as a result.
  • The newspaper's 8 o'clock deadline (which they shockingly(!) break during the course of the movie) seems extremely early by today's standards. Don't most mainstream big-city papers close a bit later than that each night, like 11 or 11:30?
  • The "New York Sun" is still printed on presses in the basement of the main offices; and yet more and more big papers are printed offsite these days.
  • During a scene with a police source, Keaton's character Hackett makes an awed mention of the Penn State Nittany Lions' football team at one point, which made me a little wistful. (They went on to have a massive unbeaten season in '94.)
  • There's a two-scene appearance by Spalding Gray, who committed suicide last year. He plays a top editor at the impressed-with-itself "New York Sentinel," a stand-in for the old Gray Lady (get it). When Hackett is snubbed for a job there because he secretly snags a story tip from Gray's character during an interview, he is told that he won't get a chance to "cover the world." In a famous (profanity-filled) scene, Keaton yells back over the phone something like, "I don't live in the f-ing world. I live in f-ing New York City."
  • And at the time of the movie, the Sun as a newspaper name hadn't been used in the city for decades. (Remember what Papa says? "If you see it in The Sun, it's so.") Today, there's an upstart broadsheet that goes by that name.
In the movie's credits, two tools of the journalist's trade are gratefully acknowledged: "QuarkXPress" and "Adobe Illustrator." The building at 127 John Street is also thanked: I'm pretty sure that's where they shot scenes of the Sun newsroom, with its nearby view of the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges (and another skyscraper that was under construction at the time -- not sure which one). Thus, the Sentinel's offices are spoken of as being "uptown."

Tailgating in Lower Manhattan

Walking along Murray Street this evening, I came across a man and his pregnant wife tailgating. Yes, tailgating. They had lowered the tailgate on what I can only assume was their Toyota pickup, and they were actually eating pizza off plates from the back of the truck.

It's just not something you see here every day.

Polls, polls, polls

In case you missed them, here's a quick look at recent poll numbers for three top Republicans (or "Republicans," if you choose): President Bush's job approval rating has dropped to 46% (+/- 3%), down 4 points in about a month. Calif. Gov. Schwarzenegger's job disapproval rating has risen to 53%. And N.Y.C. Mayor Bloomberg's approval rating recently hit a three-year high of 55%.

How New York's neighborhood parks are faring

New Yorkers for Parks released their annual report card [PDF] on neighborhood parks this week. The nonprofit coalition ranks each park's specific amenities on maintenance, cleanliness, safety and structural integrity. The good news is, a lot of them are improving -- moving up toward an A grade. The bad news is, there are still too many in poor shape, with some getting dismal well-below-failing scores.

The bigger parks like Central Park and Fort Tryon Park, for instance, are not included in this survey, because I guess they're more than just neighborhood parks. And yet consider the ones at the top of the NY4P list: Bryant Park (with its wi-fi and free events) and Madison Square Park (with its Shake Shack), which both received perfect scores. I always think of them as drawing people from all over the city, even though they are technically in some people's neighborhoods.

Which parks need the most help? University Woods in the Bronx (a steep, forested slope overlooking the Harlem River) and Sperandeo Brothers Playground in Brooklyn, both of which received less than 10 points out of 100. Several parks also took huge leaps in grade: Captain Tilly Park and Hallets Cove Playground in Queens got B grades this year, up from Fs last year, but Irving Square Park in Brooklyn went the other way, from A to F, mostly because it started collecting a lot of trash, the water fountain didn't work well anymore, and the playground started showing heavy wear.

Bennett Park [PDF] in my neighborhood fared pretty well, moving up from a C+ to a B this year, with high marks for the playground, the immediate environment, drinking fountains and bathrooms. But the sitting areas need help as well as the pathways. And from a recent visit, I'd also say that the grass area around the flagpole could use some reseeding or something.

"Swimming in the Shallows"

Fans of "The O.C." might be interested to learn that Logan Marshall-Green, the guy who last season played "Trey Atwood" (Ryan's brother) is currently playing a shark in Second Stage Theatre's new Uptown production of Swimming in the Shallows, currently in previews. The two teenage girls sitting next to me certainly seemed to be excited by such fame in their midst; they sat on the edge of their chairs whenever he was on stage, and I think I heard them giggle a few times.

Yes, Marshall-Green really plays a shark, the kind with a fin on its back, but he's also a shark who finds time to leave the aquarium and go on a date with a nervous guy who has a history of falling for (and sleeping with) men who don't call him back. There are two other slightly more traditional couples: a pair of young women living together and fighting over whether to get married to each other (or committed, if you're not quite sure if it's legal yet in Rhode Island), and an older husband and wife whose relationship is on the rocks. And whose stage presence seems to be a bit lopsided: You get through half the play thinking he's going to be an entirely off-stage character, until midway through he appears bearing a big sign that declares his name: "Bob." Which I guess is necessary so you don't confuse him with his wife, whose name is "Barb," pronounced "Bawb" in their New England accent.

The play made me laugh at times, but probably not enough, because its tone for about three-quarters of the action feels like a skit -- and at its worst -- a bad SNL skit. There's a lot of spoken-to-the-audience title cards -- "Tuesday," "How to Fall in Love," "How to Pick a Ring" -- followed by one-line or one-joke scenes. There are serious moments and supposedly dramatic moments, but the characters only seemed to have two voice volumes -- regular and really loud -- so they just seemed more like caricatures. I almost felt like I was watching some latter-day version of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

So the title implies that while the characters are "swimming in the shallows," there are deeper currents going on. The problem is, I didn't feel those deeper currents. The older married woman is aspiring to simplify her life by being like some Buddhist monks she read about who only have eight possessions in the world. This is supposed to be a more surface/shallow way of expressing the lack of satisfaction in her marriage. She says dumping all her things or giving them away to charity makes her feel lighter and more free, but what does she replace them with? What greater goal or need or desire or journey? She doesn't say. So while she's going for simplicity, I in the audience was just left with an empty feeling and the vision of an empty character.

Meanwhile, you have the absurdity of a young guy falling in love with a shark in a tank, who we're then supposed to believe is a good romantic prospect after their kissing spell on the beach and his call (!) the next day. Once again, where's the depth?

The play left me with a predictable ending (even Mamma Mia! at least plays with your expectations), no surprises, not much development, no greatly satisfying resolution, and a final line about cake that doesn't ring much of a bell with any other theme in the show.

My verdict? The title is all too literally appropriate.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

"The gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy"

I sat down to dinner about 7 tonight outside a cafe in the West 70s. All the other tables were filled and it was still warm, but the sun was behind the buildings. Then as my meal arrived (a Corona and a chicken caesar salad), the sun peeked down one of the side streets, and shone right into my eyes. That feeling reminded me of traveling around France by myself a few summers ago, and I realized one of the reasons I love New York.

Even if you're feeling lonely, you can get up out of your office chair at the end of the day or lock the door on your apartment and go out and find a good place to eat and sit there and watch a world of people walk by and have your coffee and then perhaps go to see a show. Granted, you can't do it every day (not on my budget at least), but once in a while, especially in warm weather, knowing it's all there, just a subway ride away, is a relief of sorts -- the idea that one can have a slice or two of vacation on a work night.

The title of this post is from E.B. White's Here Is New York, and while I do not always think of loneliness (or privacy) as gifts or "prizes," it's nice knowing they can be, if you so choose.

Mmmm, Doritos ...

What's funny about this latest GQ article about Saddam (and all its secondary coverage) is that it perfectly mixes a hard-news figure with lots of fluffy celebrity-type gossip. It's even better than the shot of him in his tighty-whiteys.
What's your favorite color, Saddam? Who was your favorite president (besides yourself, of course)? What's your advice on women, Saddy? (You don't mind if I call you that, do you, Saddy?) What's your plan for world peace?
Now usually when a celebrity is linked to a particular brand, fashion or trend -- think Ashton and the trucker hat -- sales skyrocket. But what happens when that celebrity is really a villain (not just someone who plays one on TV)? Will Doritos become verboten? Will Froot Loops be the new freedom fries? Or will people just read the articles, ignore the whole potential moral dilemma of trending off a reputed dictator's habits, and think: Mmmmmm, Doritos, I could devour a family-size bag of those myself?

The State College baseball team

Well, they announced the semi-final round of the new State College minor-league baseball team naming contest, and the State College Centurions was not on there. (Surprise, surprise.) Too many biblical overtones perhaps.

Instead, you can choose from the Stags (which is just too funny for a men's sports team), the Sliders (which sounds a lot like the Altoona Curve, which will own the new team), the RidgeRiders (which is a made-up alliterative name playing off the area's ridges), the Mountain Bats (another animal/baseball name), the Miners (State College is not in NEPA!), the Copperheads and the Black Bears (both of whom are supposed to be actually in the forests around town). You can vote here.

I picked the RidgeRiders because it sounds funny, but I bet the Sliders (which apparently is also the name of a turtle) will be the winner.

Monday, June 20, 2005

"After the Night and the Music"

There's a passage in a play I saw recently where an old woman is talking about her late husband, and remembering the things that she liked about him and the things she didn't. And she talks about how the difference between being alone and being with someone you love is not 2 minus 1 equals 1, but more like 1 and 1 equals 1,000 or a million, even: because when you're with someone else, you can create a world that feels so much bigger than just the single value of yourselves added up. It wasn't a stellar play, and this is a pretty basic sort of sentiment, which I'm probably remembering incorrectly, but I've been thinking about how it gets at something I've been feeling a lot recently.

Upper Manhattan's Paterno

In New York, every little bit of greenery helps, and this one is a very little bit. Measuring about 1/50th of an acre, this patch of parklet is known as "Paterno Trivium," after the Latin word for the place where three roads meet -- in this case, Cabrini Blvd., Pinehurst Ave. and West 187th St. in the neighborhood known as Hudson Heights or north Washington Heights. It's named for Dr. Charles V. Paterno (born 1876 or '77; died 1946). He was a physician, but he's remembered here as a builder, most notably of two nearby co-op apartment complexes: the Tudor-style Hudson View Gardens and Castle Village with its cruciform towers, both overlooking the Hudson. This little piece of green was set aside in 2000, according to the sign. I'm not sure whether this Upper Manhattan Paterno is at all related to the Penn State Paterno (born in Brooklyn), although I doubt it.

Another example of news stripped of all but its entertainment value

WaPo's media writer Howard Kurtz has a great piece on Fox's fast-talking anchor Shepard Smith, which reads almost as quickly as one of "Shep's" newscasts. A choice quote: "It won't kill us to give 20 seconds of cute dogs."

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Miyazaki's magic

I saw two more of famed Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki's films this weekend: Howl's Moving Castle (in the theater) and Spirited Away (on DVD). He has a power to create such beautiful fully realized worlds that adhere to their own strangely believable logic, and they give a lot of credit to the viewer, revealing only that which needs to be revealed to tell the story at any given point. This technique draws you in and keeps you watching despite yourself sometimes. But so far in the four films I've seen of his -- Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbor, Totoro were the others -- Miyazaki does not disappoint, if you give him your patience.

It seems to be a compliment these days to say that a family film and especially animation appeals to both children's and adults' sense of humor, but I feel like so often these appeals are working on two different planes. With Miyazaki's films, it's all of one piece: They have an amazing ability to move between joy and sorrow, laughter and revulsion, reality and fantasy, within a few moments of a scene. The characters are alternately hideous and adorable. Spirits move in and out of humans' lives, and they aren't all bad or all good. The spirits especially seem to mix a lot of human traits into their make-up: laziness, vanity, caring, forgiveness, greed, altruism. One spirit, for example, begins as a benevolent helper to a lost little girl, then enters a bathhouse, gets gluttonous, devours three of the worker creatures, only to spit them up whole with the help of a little mystical ipecac, declare loneliness to be his driving motive, and end up happily befriending a thread-spinning grandmother in a thatched-roof cottage.

Something else that strikes me about Miyazaki's worlds -- besides their focus on resourceful young women -- is their interest in the everyday habits that keep us alive. He always makes sure that his characters stop to eat meals, to bathe, to clean their environments, to have a cup of tea, to lay down for sleep and wake up in the morning, to use buses or trains to get where they're going. I know people in other animated films do these things, but there seems to be such attention paid to them, for their own sake, almost, and not as merely a place to launch an argument, discussion or action sequence. In a way, it grounds his films and keeps them very real-feeling, even as the characters shift in shape, change into one another, take solemn oaths, break spells, and find their true identities. There are some echoes of this in the recent Pixar films, but something about Miyazaki's films make them feel innocent and unjaded despite their occasional moments of violence and gruesomeness. They can be funny and playful, but don't seem to me very ironic -- which in this case -- is a good attribute.

Howl, by the way, is now showing in about 200 theaters.

Wherefore art thou, Jessie Spano?

Charles Isherwood has a rather funny mea culpa in the Times today on the topic of the actress Elizabeth Berkley and how she asked him once -- very nicely, it would seem -- to stop branding her as that girl who starred in the horribly bad movie known as ... (and the critic doesn't mention the movie's title through the entire article).

But you know he's talking about that train-wreck of a film, Showgirls. (Having never seen this movie, I take it on faith that it is bad.) The funny thing is that I remember her from an extremely popular if decidedly cheesy and predictable sitcom called "Saved by the Bell," which predates the-film-that-will-not-be-named by a good five years (1989).

Is this an age thing? Did you have to be under the age of 15 in the early 1990s to remember her as "Jessie Spano" -- she of the notorious caffeine-pill problem (see "Jessie's Song" on this episode guide) -- and not whoever she played in Showgirls?

In a way, I guess she could be embarrassed by both early credits, but all that aside, she's actually been having a go on the Broadway stage lately, and Isherwood says she has some talent: last season with Sly Fox, and currently over at Hurlyburly, which is a play set during the Hollywood excesses of the mid-'80s and reminds me even more of "Saved by the Bell," because the sitcom just couldn't shake that big-hair feeling of the decade it was launched in.

Saturday afternoon around the High Line in Chelsea, which is currently surrounded by art galleries, auto body shops, high-end condos, and logistics/shipping companies like FedEx and U-Haul. More photos are available from my walk through the neighborhood at Flickr.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Gregory Crewdson's Beneath The Roses

Gregory Crewdson is not your average roving photographer. He is more like a motion picture director who instead uses still cameras for his vision. Setting up a shot requires the help of a cast and crew -- and usually the cooperation of a town or major soundstage. And what he produces are some very eerie photographs, which stretch across walls in the gallery, and reveal the tiniest of details in striking contrast: the pill bottles on a bedside table, the toothbrushes on a sink, the faded signs that peer out onto empty streetscapes, the numbers on the license plate of a beat-up car idling at a stoplight.

I first encountered his work during an art class in college. I was flipping through art magazines and came across some of his photographs. I love art that cries out to have a story attached to it, and Crewdson's shots are often like that. He depicts small-town or suburban settings (often at night or twilight) with solitary individuals or groups of people seemingly detached from one another, many of them pausing in life, looking stunned or haunted by something that's never quite clear. In past series, he's shown beanstalks that rise up in quiet backyards, rolls of sod piled up in a garage, a woman floating Ophelia-like in a flooded living room. Often, he draws on well-known actors and actresses like Julianne Moore and William H. Macy to pose in the photos. [A few years back, the NYT ran a behind-the-scenes slideshow of one of his "productions."]

So it was exciting to finally see his prints up close. I thought today was going to be the last day to see Crewdson's latest exhibit, "Beneath The Roses," at the Luhring Augustine Gallery [site is a pop-up] on 24th Street in Chelsea, but it turns out they've extended it through the end of June. You really can't do the photographs justice in online reproductions, but that said, I was somewhat disappointed by the latest works. Perhaps he raised the bar so high in the past -- with the level of mystery and fantasy thrown into down-and-out landscapes -- that the current pictures seem more banal in a way.

There is still a strong helping of the dramatic, though. An older woman stands naked in a motel bathroom, the hint of blood seen dripping from her. A man stands outside in the rain in the middle of a ghostly street, with his car door open and his briefcase soaking up the water. A group of youngish men and women stand around with flashlights in the woods, gazing into space with several dark holes visible in the brush. A naked couple lie together facing out on a naked mattress in a trash-strewn backyard.

The cinematic and staged quality evokes Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills writ large, while the content of dazed and hollow-eyed Americana is almost Hopper-esque. Some criticize the work for its overabundance of detail, but I really enjoy that level of direction. Still, I almost felt like his style works better when the scenarios were even more over the top and fantastical -- the flower gardens growing inside, the secret world beneath the house, etc.

The Starrett-Lehigh Building in Chelsea, Saturday afternoon. (Sort of reminds me of a much-widened version of the Flatiron Building from this angle.)

A modern view with the same superlative

I came across the following lines of poetry by proud New Jersey-ite/New Yorker Allen Ginsberg in an anthology the other day. They're from a poem called "My Sad Self" dedicated to Frank O'Hara.
Sometimes when my eyes are red
I go up on top of the RCA Building
and gaze at my world, Manhattan --
my buildings, streets I've done feats in,
lofts, beds, coldwater flats
--on Fifth Ave below which I also bear in mind,
its ant cars, little yellow taxis, men
walking the size of specks of wool-- ...
It was written in October 1958, at a time when the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center (now the G.E. Building) boasted the second highest observatory deck on the island. A decade and a half later, it would become the third highest. But now, when it re-opens to visitors this fall, the G.E. view will be the second highest again, as David Dunlap points out in this Times article.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Dancing around town

I forgot to mention one of those it's-really-just-a-small-city moments from the other night. After the orchestra concert let out Thursday, I stepped outside and listened for a while to the Nelson Riddle Orchestra play for all the people dancing out in the Lincoln Center courtyard. And who should I see swinging away assuredly but a couple of very memorable dancers who I'd seen before. Here they are (man in the green shirt, woman in the red) just the other day, attracting a crowd outside the Guggenheim during the Museum Mile Festival.

The grass is greener on this side of the brain

A podcast of "Studio 360" the other day drew my attention to a fascinating recent study of the brain: Some U.S. scientists believe they've located a place in our heads that is the main player in helping us to understand human metaphors and proverbs -- things that may have a literal meaning, but also have a universal one. The researchers say that some stroke victims they questioned were unable to understand, say, that "all that glitters is not gold" can mean much, much more to us than mere jewelry shopping advice, and that "reaching for the stars" doesn't require stretching out your arms at night.

Apparently, only a small place in these subjects' brains was affected by the stroke -- a small area above and behind the left ear -- and as a result, they offered very basic, literal interpretations of these sayings that can be important elements of our human world, our art and culture, our literature and language, our heritage.

Fire and ice

The New York Philharmonic concert would've been great enough even without the Natalie Portman sighting. It featured two of my favorite pieces: Sibelius' Violin Concerto and Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, both of which I first fell in love with while lying on the floor of a darkened music classroom, listening to big speakers booming out recordings of them during summer camp (CTY at Dickinson College with the Hijlehs).

I made it to the box office of Avery Fisher Hall just 10 minutes before showtime, but they still had single seats left as far up as the third row of the orchestra. This was my first time being in the hall, and while I know people still complain about the acoustics sometimes, the latter-day reflective devices that they installed all around the stage, which I thought were attractive to look at as well, probably improved the sound a good deal.

I was a bit confused when the orchestra started playing Paul Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice, because that wasn't in the printed program. I was also confused because the guy on the podium did not look old enough to be Lorin Maazel. Luckily, the guy next to me was in the know: Turns out Maazel got sick earlier this week, and David Robertson, music director designate of the St. Louis Symphony, had to fill in, changing two of the program's pieces in the process.

As a result, you could've called the program "Fire and Ice" with two rich, powerful pieces employing all of the orchestra's color and fire as bookends (Apprentice and Firebird) to the icy coolness of the Sibelius concerto and his Swan of Tuonela with solo part for English horn.

Gil Shaham, who's probably one of the 10 best violinists playing today, was soloist on the concerto. (Interesting parallel: Shaham was born in the U.S., but moved to Israel for part of his life; Portman was born in Israel, but then moved to the U.S.) He really seemed to be enjoying himself up there, smiling and sawing away. I love the way the piece opens: the soft, shimmering strings like a snowy Finnish landscape awaiting the icy sunrays of the solo part, sliding in over top, introducing the earnest but passionate first theme. Shaham got a standing ovation at the end, and the audience wouldn't let him leave until he played an encore: a gavotte in rondo form by Bach.

The Firebird was also great. One of the movements really packs an opening punch, which often shakes people out of their chairs and takes you a bit by surprise even if you're familiar with the piece. My favorite movement is the last one, which builds so simply to finish in such triumphant, swooping form.

The Philharmonic will be performing the same program later this morning (quick turnaround, right?) and Saturday night.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

I keep running into Natalie Portman

This is like the third time in the past year or so. It was intermission tonight at the New York Philharmonic concert, and I was headed for the concession table when I see a familiar-looking shaved head right in front of me in the throng. Gradually, I realize, down to the beauty mark on her cheek, yes, it's Natalie Portman, all right, just with less hair than she usually has.

She was with a middle-aged woman and a balding but youngish guy with glasses. I want to say they were all related somehow, but I wasn't sure. I only heard Natalie speak for a bit -- she wasn't talking very loud -- but I think the other woman (who may have been her mother, I guess) was asking her about some upcoming trip to Spain. Natalie was wearing a grayish peasant shirt and jeans, and carrying a kind of patchwork-quilt handbag. During the second half of the performance, she and the guy sat one in front of each other in the third and fourth row of the orchestra, and the mother-looking woman sat near me, off to the left of center -- all separate for some reason.

I tried to contrive some reason to talk to them, as they were right next to me a few times: walking out at intermission, then in line at the concession stand, sipping their coffee, and then finally leaving when it was all over. But no; didn't happen.

Can celebrities meet new people, I wonder, without having their celebrity be a major part of the introduction, of the attraction, of the basic interest in getting to know someone?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning ..."

In the same vein as the New York Times' recent literary bookmap, there's a new blog on the block called Living with Legends, which seeks to be a repository for all things artistic and notable about the people of the Chelsea Hotel/Hotel Chelsea, "a rest stop for rare individuals" as it calls itself, and the intersection point for a lot of cultural icons and contemporary artists.

My favorite is the Welsh writer and poet Dylan Thomas, who wrote of such innocence and magic in "A Child's Christmas in Wales" and yet lived a nasty, brutish and short life, collapsing at the age of 39 in the famous hotel and dying at nearby St. Vincent's.

Another name on the blog's list of Chelsea authors is Ethan Hawke, who indeed has been published, but whose place in the literary canon ... uh ... hasn't yet been assured.

He struck me on the head with his hardcover copy of Mein Kampf!

I like listening to Bob Garfield ('77 Penn State grad and co-host of NPR/WNYC's "On the Media"); he can be kind of unpredictable in some of his interviews. On last Sunday's program, available as a podcast here, he spoke with a guy named Herb London about the conservative weekly Human Events' recent list of the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries." [No. 1 is that insidious page-turner of a pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto.]

London was on the jury who selected the books, and he manages to dance around taking very strong stands on books that he didn't actually vote for. And you can just hear Garfield trying to prod him into saying something funny or something he'll regret (especially considering the supposed weight of the topic). Here's a choice interchange:
BOB GARFIELD: Well, it - apparently there was some sort of consensus on the jury. Do you know why [Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male] was deemed to be so harmful?

HERB LONDON: Well, probably because conventional notions of sexuality were changed and the relationship between men and women changed in the process. Normative behavior became very different as a result of the Kinsey Report and what was alleged to be the great changes that were occurring in American sexuality.

BOB GARFIELD: And next thing you know, you got, like Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is talking about ... man on dog sex.

HERB LONDON: Well, I won't even comment on that. I'm not going to dignify that comment, but [Garfield's LAUGHTER] I, all I'm saying to you is that if you're looking at normative behavior, clearly it changed as a result of the Kinsey Report.
Earlier, they have a slightly less cheeky discussion about whether books really hurt people or people hurt people. London maintains that books can in fact be very dangerous. [The full transcript is here.]

Joking aside, I wondered how dangerous such books could really be without guns and ammunition, overly ambitious leaders, changes in law and science, and new and powerful inventions, etc. thrown into the mix? And yet, on the other hand, many people could make arguments that certain works of literature can actually be seen as sources of great good. (Remember: "Does Writing Change Anything?") So could a person support a top 10 list of the most helpful books of recent history while chiding a list of the 10 most harmful ones? Would a left-leaning publication ever find itself coming up with a top 10 "harmful" list? Or what would a Human Events "most beneficial" list look like?

"And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound ..."

If you're an iPod listener for any length of time, it slowly dawns on you that those crafty people down at Apple have supplied you with headphones that are not of the highest caliber. (Sort of like how when you buy a digital camera, the memory card that it comes with can only hold like 10 pictures.) Thus, you're forced to venture once more into the electronics aisle. I've tried several under-$20 varieties so far, and was less than enthused. I kept eyeing a certain $50 pair for a while, and finally broke down the other night and bought them.

They are Sony's "High Peformance" earbuds, gratuitous code number MDR-EX71SL (white). Setting aside for the moment the realization that I could've gotten these for at least $10 cheaper if I'd actually waited a few days instead of hurrying off to the sleek Apple Store on Prince Street, these headphones rock. They are a marked improvement over the cheaper brands. And while they're not as cool as the much-pricier Bose QuietComfort noise-canceling headphones, they approximate some of that block-out-the-ambient-patter feature. The subway sounds especially are cut down heavily once you've snugged the little buds inside your ears. They're comfortable, and have different sizes of ear cushions, too. The music and words themselves come through much clearer, so much so that I can hear more imperfections on some of the tracks that downloaded from the internet back in the day. But the burned-from-CD tracks and downloaded-off-iTunes ones come through really well.

My only complaint so far is the cord length. The headphones are attached to a short cord, which can then be connected to an extension to make it longer. The short cord is almost too short and the extended version leaves too much slack. I've found at least that I can slip my iPod into my chest pocket with the shorter cord length if I'm wearing a button-down shirt and still have enough room to take it out and switch songs.

Overall, though, I'd say these earbuds are worth it, although you can probably find them online for cheaper than going to most stores.

(Title quote from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The High Line plan keeps chugging along

The public-space project's latest achievement was getting approval this week from the federal body that oversees rail corridors, thereby opening the door for the structure's current owner, railway operator CSX, to transfer the High Line to the city. The Friends of the High Line's latest PR says work on transforming the former elevated railroad is slated to start later this year, with the first phase (from Gansevoort Street to 15th Street) opening to the public in late 2007 or early 2008. Which still feels like a long way away, but I guess even when things are going hunky-dory, renovation takes time. Meanwhile, FHL is asking for public support tomorrow morning by showing up at City Hall and wearing one of their free green T-shirts to back the project at a council subcomittee hearing.

"Manuscript" opens, still filled with holes

I'm glad I wasn't the only one who walked away from Manuscript at the Daryl Roth Theatre feeling like it was kind of fun, but far too contrived. The play, NYT's Isherwood writes, "is as inconsequential as it is implausible." He goes on to say: "Let's just say there are holes here you could easily drive a copy of 'Infinite Jest' through." (Note the page count on that one if you've never seen it in the bookstore.)

Monday, June 13, 2005

Where in New York is Stephen Glass?

I watched Shattered Glass tonight, the decent, fairly straightforward, but unimpressive film about the downfall of New Republic writer Stephen Glass and his serial fabrication in print. I found myself yelling at the screen at this weasly real-life villian more than I would for any fictional one. His demise predated Jayson Blair's, and he sort of pioneered the latter-day career route for young phenoms who lie their way to the top and then get caught in front of a nationwide audience: Cry a lot, play up your youth, let people think you might be suicidal, lean on all the good graces of others which you've acquired through your innocent smarminess, go into therapy, come out a "new man," do the TV shows, write your book, live off whatever overly generous advance you got, then look for a new line of work. Glass luckily listened to his family and had a backup plan already in place: law school. Blair, meanwhile, is reportedly looking for a job in human resources, when last I read.

The DVD of Glass has one of the better extras I've seen recently: the "60 Minutes" interview with Glass from Aug. 17, 2003. In it, they show the stock newsmagazine scenes of Glass looking like he's doing normal everyday things: typing on his computer, walking around his New York apartment, cycling at the gym while wearing an ironic "Eat Krispy Kreme Doughnuts" T-shirt. He talks about how he fabricated so much in the most earnest tone, and then -- just under 10 minutes into the clip -- they show him stepping outside of an unmarked green door next to a very distinctive-looking sculpted wall. If you've ever driven between the Williamsburg Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel, you might recognize it. It's the Storefront for Art and Architecture at 97 Kenmare St. Which makes me wonder: Perhaps Stephen Glass lived or still lives (or works or works out) in an apartment/space above this SoHo landmark.

OK, I'll taking off my Obscure Semi-Celebrity Stalker hat right now.

Projectionists of Gotham, reel out!

The new IFC Center on the site of the former Waverly Twin (across from the West 4th St. subway station at 323 Sixth Ave.) hasn't even officially opened, and it's already attracting rabid mobs of protestors (OK, so mabye they're not rabid). Turns out, they're not hiring union labor, according to Variety [watch the ad to read the full article]. And the projectionists of IATSE Local 306 (who don't seem to have much spare time to make a good looking website) are angry. So how many jobs are at stake here? The union reportedly had two (!) members on site at the old Waverly. Still, it's good to see a union staking out its territory.

So who owns IFC? Rainbow Media, which is a subsidiary by Cablevision Systems Corp., owners of Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Clearview Cinemas (which owned the Waverly Twin), and recent vocal opponents of the Jets planned invasion of their Midtown turf. So when they say Independent Film Channel, they really mean small appendage of a major media conglomerate.

What I want to know is: Will you have to cross the picket line (or in this case, brush past the picketing gaggle) if you go to see the premiere of Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know this Friday night?

Not in MY neighborhood, thank goodness

Even with cleaner subways, Disney in Times Square, and no smoking in bars, people still get shot all the time here. One of the first guilty questions most people reading their Post or Daily News have is: What neighborhood did it happen in? You can call it snootiness or NIMBY syndrome, but I think it's more of a big-city coping mechanism, made possible by real estate brokers' need to further and further atomize the city.

"That man was shot in Harlem! Gosh, thank goodness, I'm safe here in Hamilton Heights."

What outsiders may consider splitting of hairs, we might consider peace of mind. And when the person is shot, but does not die (thankfully), we seem to take even more license in having our minds wander to the pressing question of neighborhood, as seen in this Gothamist post, which starts off discussing how a tourist from Baltimore was shot and ends up musing on what section of the city it happened in. Flatiron? 20-something? South Koreatown? NoFlaB: North of the Flatiron Building? NoMad: North of Madison Square Park?

Oh, and here's a strange detail from the Newsday story: "As she was being wheeled off on a gurney for an X-ray yesterday, [the victim] appeared alert and even smiled." She must've been thinking of the T-shirt she could make: I Hit Up New York on a Bus Trip and All I Got Was This Bullet Scar.

(Why does living here bringing out the gallows humor in me?)

"Follow the money"

I too was duped into thinking that this famous supposed instruction to Woodward and Bernstein (and investigative journalists in general) by Deep Throat had its origin in some of the original reportage of Watergate. But no, it turns out that the line was written by William Goldman, the screenwriter of All The President's Men and The Princess Bride and the original Stepford Wives, as NYT's Frank Rich helpfully points out in a recent column. You can search for the line in a text-only copy of the original screenplay. Art rewrites life, and then life quotes art years later, thinking it was an accurate depiction of life.

What will be playing on my iPod during the next commute

After a night where I tossed and turned a lot and had trouble falling asleep, it brightened up my morning to find a gift in my e-mail inbox: an iTunes gift certificate from my parents! There's nothing like some new music to cheer you up. Let the downloading begin.

Here's what I've got so far: A cover of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" by Ben Folds and an original by him from one of his EPs called "Rent a Cop" as well as a cover by Folds and two other Bens (Kweller and Lee) of the Hedwig song "Wicked Little Town." Also, the original movie version of "Wig in a Box." (You can sort of see my progression of logic here, right?) Then two new Coldplay songs, even though it seems like the thing to be trashing them these days: "What If" and "White Shadows." I think I'll save the rest for later ...

Sunday, June 12, 2005

"You can look in the forest ... For a secret field ... For a golden arrow ..."

I've raved about The Light in the Piazza before, but now that the soundtrack (released on that great label, Nonesuch Records, home of John Adams, Steve Reich, The Magnetic Fields, Audra McDonald, assorted Sondheim and k.d. lang) has been out for a few weeks, I have another reason.

If you haven't heard the music yet, there are clips of "Dividing Day," "Say It Somehow," "Love to Me" and "Octet" available here. My favorite songs are actually the (somewhat bittersweet) ones sung by Victoria Clark who plays the mother: "Dividing Day," "Let's Walk" and "Fable" -- the finale -- although "Say It" and "Love to Me" are close runners up.

Ventured to distant but pleasant Bay Ridge last night. Off to Jersey today. Forecast high? 90 again!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Review: Caterina in The Big City

Last night, I saw Caterina va in citta (in English, Caterina either Goes to The City or in The Big City) at the Landmark Sunshine on East Houston Street. The movie itself was wonderful, once again enlivening my faith in foreign films.

It begins as a deceptively simple coming-of-age story about a young girl on the brink of teenagerhood, moving with her teacher father and housewife mother to Rome from an area known to her future big-city classmates as "hillbilly haven." The movie then explores the similarities and differences between the contemporary left and right of Italian politics through a few families of the movers and shakers in Rome. First one side latches onto Caterina, then the other, in the way that established "cliques" -- whether teeny-boppers or adults -- are interested in winning over their newcomers. Caterina is constantly branded as "old-fashioned" because she hasn't yet started to affect the city's cynicism. She likes choral music and conducts unabashedly to the singing in her headphones, much to the delight of an Australian boy (who speaks very good Italian) who lives across the courtyard and later reveals to her the secrets he has discovered about her family. The father meanwhile is a hopeless social climber, who at the same time is tactless enough to rave madly from the audience of a TV talk show about how the established elite keep new ideas (and him) out.

After getting so tired sometimes of our culture wars here in America, I really enjoyed how the movie portrayed similar (but different) wrangling in modern-day Italy and what it had to say about the debates. There's a really revealing scene where a government minister from the right and a faded philosophe from the left find themselves in the headmaster's office trying to reconcile their daughters after a schoolyard fight. The session ends with the daughters insulting each other, but outside the fathers, who are supposed to hate each other, shake hands and joke about the world Caterina's father can only dream about.

At times, Caterina's father seems a bit too much of a caricature, but the rest of the characters are rich in detail, multisided, and fun to watch. And Caterina manages to retain an individual and innocent charm throughout the tug of war among other girls at school.


After the movie, people enjoyed it so much that they clapped. And as the classical music played and the credits rolled, some girls of indeterminate age got up and started dancing and improvising ballet-style in front of the screen. Those still left in the seats also found this pretty funny and clapped for the dancers.

Before the film, in the men's second-floor bathroom, where there is only one stall, and two urinals, a bit of an old man's cockfight ensued as a frustrated guy standing on the outside of the stall yelled in to the toilet's occupant, "Aw, hurry up already." Less than a minute later, we heard a flush and another old man stepped out to the sink area and said something along the lines of: "Were you talking to me? I had to wait just like you! You shouldn't've sat there in the theater, reading all those credits you don't understand, and instead, come out sooner like me." Another guy in the tiny restroom who'd been hearing all this was beside himself with laughter and looked at me as we were leaving: "Drama in the men's room!" he said.

Short on words, long on joy

Living in a big box with lots of people nearby, most of whom you never see, isn't always a great thing, but it has its perks, especially when there are common spaces and people move out or clean their apartments. What this sometimes produces is a pile of free books and magazines in the basement laundry room, ripe (although a bit dusty) for the picking. Someone must be or must have been as much of a fan of short stories as I am, because they left a stack of fairly recent anthologies there, and I snapped them up. Garisson Keillor was the guest editor for The Best American Short Stories 1998, and wrote a great Introduction. In it, he explains how he read dozens of new stories with the name of the author missing, and chose ones "judged simply by whether they pulled me through to the end and with what force and pleasure and surprise." I've read two of the stories so far, and both had a similar effect on me: "Body Language" by Diane Schoemperlen and "Appetites" by Kathryn Chetkovich. I'm looking forward to reading the rest.

Sign outside an East Village deli, Friday night.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Penn State/State College round-up

President Bush is supposed to be speaking at Penn State's Eisenhower Auditorium next week, according to the CDT. His topic? Yup, you guessed it: Social Security. And since his audience will be the Future Farmers of America (now renamed to just the FFA -- sort of like how the AARP is no longer officially the American Association of Retired Persons), someone better get him up to the Creamery for some of that delicious ice cream a la Clinton and Spanier (seen above in a '96 Penn Stater magazine photo).

There's a new lead in the case of missing State College-area DA Ray (Gricar). The AP is reporting that he might have been spotted in Michigan in late May.

And founding dean of the Schreyer Honors College, Cheryl Achterberg, is stepping down from her post at PSU to head out to the Midwest and be the founding dean of the new College of Human Sciences at Iowa State University this fall.

Happy hour on the harbor

This time of year, the dark insides of a bar don't seem like the most appealing place after you've been in the office all day and you're leaving work and hoping to enjoy a little bit of the fading daylight. That's why outdoor and especially waterfront bars are key.

If you're in the Financial District, there is a choice spot for drinks right in Battery Park, across from State Street and not far from South Ferry. Formerly known as American Park, it's been renamed Battery Gardens and the patio bar out back is just a few feet from the waterline and gives you full unobstructed views of New York Harbor, with the ships and pleasure boats scuttling about in clement weather. I haven't eaten there, but the food is supposed to be very good as well, though I don't know how expensive it is.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Having margaritas with the Oracle of Omaha

That's Warren, not Jimmy!

The local Newspaper Guild, representing journalists at Reuters in New York, took out a pretty amusing advertisement in the Wall Street Journal the other week to highlight on-going union contract negotiations and call attention to the kind of embarrassing errors that have reportedly popped up on their wire ever since the media company has started outsourcing some photo editing duties to India -- and more recently, Singapore. I don't think this Buffett mix-up is an actual error, but it's not so far from the actual ones.

See this line from a Newsday story: "The errors include misidentification of the Polish city of Krakow as being in Portugal and saying Army Reservist Lynndie England, who was involved in the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq, was commander of her unit rather than a private."

You know, like mistakes that most national-caliber journalists aren't likely to make if they're at all paying attention.

FreshDirect now delivering to (more of) Washington Heights and Inwood

I've been in the all-hallowed FDZ (FreshDirect Zone) for some time now, but still those beloved grocery deliverers sent me this handy coverage-area map to share with friends -- or help with a future apartment search in the neighborhood. If you're in the green, congratulations: Now head over to their site, and start ordering wine by the case and those gourmet flavored smores!

Chacun a son gout

I have to concur with Daryl's observation that blogs are filled with talk of obscure bands these days. While on the one hand this can be good, because it means groups and singers can get exposure without having to first break through the Infinity and Clear Channel ceilings. But at the same time, it can make people feel like their knowledge of music is totally stilted or narrow.

I'm more likely to feel the latter these days, but I still argue for pushing little-heard-of musicians, especially if audio samples of their music are available somewhere online for free. I admit that talking about the NY (especially Off-Broadway) theater scene can seem a tad obscure from time to time, if you're nowhere near or have never been to the city, so I can appreciate some of that vibe.

But nonetheless, here are six songs I enjoy at the moment:

1) William Shatner's cover of the Pulp song "Common People" featuring Joe Jackson
2) "End of the Movie" by Cake
3) "Departure Bay" by Diana Krall
4) Seu Jorge's cover of the David Bowie song "Life on Mars?"
5) "Not Going Anywhere" by Keren Ann
6) "Give Judy My Notice" by Ben Folds

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Just before hurrying off to see Keane, I caught the sun setting just south of the Eldorado from across the Central Park Reservoir.

Cracks in the masterpiece?

Meanwhile outside, the museum building itself was looking like a patient strapped down to an examination table with electrodes stuck to its chest. Many of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings are soaringly unique creations, but they haven't always been the most durable of structures, it seems (think of Fallingwater). However, I don't know what's wrong specifically with the Solomon R. Guggenheim at the moment.

Buren at the Guggenheim

Earlier, I took a free opportunity (thanks to the annual Museum Mile Festival) to see what was up at the Guggenheim. It was a bit disappointing to realize that no art is on display in the famous rotunda besides Daniel Buren's site-specific work(s) The Eye of the Storm.

The big contraption of mirrors and green dashes along the spiral walkway were less than illuminating until I read the printed guide at the base of things, which explained that it's the artist's experiment in bringing an actual corner of the rigid rectilinear and glassed-covered skyscraper grid of the city into Frank Lloyd Wright's soaring atrium. Thus, one could argue, temporarily "ruining" one of the great places in the city that does not confirm to the otherwise grand aesthetic.

It all felt more like a parlor trick grown to museum-sized proportions -- a less-than-captivating intervention in the space, which has been the site of more interesting works in the past.

Keane at Radio City Music Hall

Saw the young British band Keane perform tonight at Radio City. Probably one of their bigger venues to date, having played previous New York gigs at the Mercury Lounge and the Hammerstein Ballroom. I love their music, but I have to say it took me by surprise when I realized they don't really have a guitar in the band -- just drums, keyboards and vocals. I also realized that they have a lot of melancholy numbers in their still modestly sized repetoire (one album out so far, and one in the works, which is getting some exposure now on tour).

Video projections on a screen above the band tonight just contributed to that feeling, especially one that tells a bittersweet picture story about a Humpty-Dumpty-looking fellow growing up, seeing his mother die, and trying to interact with the girl in the florist where he goes to buy flowers to put on his mother's grave. Two other image sequences were timed to match their songs down to the closing seconds.

It's not that I didn't like hearing their music live or enjoy myself, but there was something of an incongruency about the venue, the band's songs, the fans and their reactions. It's like a lot of people really love several of Keane's anthems, such as "Everybody's Changing" and "This Is The Last Time," which are excellent songs, no doubt, but at the same time, they aren't quite sure what to make of the rest of their music, which can be slow, synth-heavy and more introspective.