Sunday, April 30, 2006

Observation deck

Remains of the past few days

Fun but exhausting weekend. Wish I had more energy to write any more than a quick catalog. Benevento-Russo Duo on Friday night at the Bowery Ballroom. Saturday at Christie's: the Donald Judd works up for auction amid the bare white space with great views, high above the absolutely overwhelming amount of great and well-known art set to go on the block in the next few weeks. The poor gawkers like me and the rich couples eyeing their targets. Seeing a Damien Hirst (Away from the Flock, Divided) up close for the first time. Warhol, De Kooning, Chagall, Yves Klein, Hockney. And of course, the Van Gogh that's expected to go for $40 million to $50 million. Seeing Gehry's IAC building under construction in person, being rather disappointed so far. Dining on Jane Jacobs' old block of Hudson Street, watching the "street ballet" over a folded section of the Times and a bowl of penne with tomato and basil at Pepe Verde (No. 559). Walking over to the bookstore across from Magnolia, buying a copy of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, not being able to put it down, loving that feeling of having a book again that I steal moments to read. Dance show with M. at MLKJ HS auditorium: modern, jazz, hip-hop. A round of delicious Belgian white beers with M. and J. at Dive 75 on West 75th. Sunday breakfast with A. at the fairly packed Park View Restaurant on Dyckman. Afternoon tea, lavender bread, and cards with H. again at Sympathy for the Kettle. Tompkins Square Park. Small, old treasures around the East Village. Yummy veggie food at the Organic Grill. A student brass choir. A maple nut scone. A mocha and cheesecake twist. Two blue trains from W4.

Friday, April 28, 2006

T.G.I. the Weekend

The Times' William Grimes has a great story today about the relatively recent phenomenon that is the weekend, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the newspaper's Weekend section. An excerpt: "For a brief interlude the natives get to live a little like tourists, savoring their surroundings and exploring a complex world that, on workdays, can become tightly circumscribed. ... The drawback, for New Yorkers who stay put on the weekends, is the temptation to spend Saturday and Sunday catching up on work left undone. Or, conversely, to strain the pleasure principle beyond its natural limits. It really is not a good idea to see two Broadway shows, five films and "Parsifal" on the same weekend that you check out three new restaurants and take a walking tour of the cast-iron district. New Yorkers overbook during the week, and they can easily overbook on the weekend."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Trinity's Bridge

Near Wall Street

Akeelah and the Bee: Worth the cross-marketing

I was a little ambivalent about going to see Akeelah and the Bee in the same way that I'm ambivalent about patronizing Starbucks, which is so heavily promoting this movie. Witness the ambivalence:

On the one hand, Starbucks does make an effort to be a good "corporate citizen" by associating itself with worthy community causes, and aiming to treat its employees better than the average fast-food chain does. But on the other hand, it's an exceedingly profitable business and an aggressively expanding chain that's been adding to the homogenization of our country's landscape.

Likewise, on the one hand, I wouldn't have been so quick to choose Akeelah out of the dozens of selections currently on offer at the Tribeca Film Festival if it hadn't been from the Starbucks promotions. But it is going into wide release tomorrow, and there are probably a lot of other decent movies in the festival that won't score such big distribution deals.

Happily I can say that this film was well worth seeing, despite all the ambivalence. And the free Starbucks coffee and tea was a nice touch as well. It's a feel-good, stand-up-and-cheer type of movie that features some really strong performances and manages to avoid feeling too cliche while at the same time tugging at your heartstrings. And it's got a pretty funky soundtrack, too. I can only hope that it does well nationwide.

We saw the movie in the biggest auditorium at the Loews Lincoln Square. Sitting upstairs in the front row of the balcony, it's not too hard to squint and imagine you're in one of the old ornate movie houses, after which it's modeled. And the screening was extra special because the director, Doug Atchison, and one of the actresses, Dalia Phillips, were on hand to introduce it. So when the audience applauded at the end, you knew for once that some of the creators were actually there to appreciate it. For Atchison, it's almost 12 years in the making; he told the audience that the idea for the movie came to him in 1994, and the script was ready by 1999, but it's just now hitting theaters.

Oh, and one more business-side note: The film's opening credits actually list "Starbucks Entertainment," so this is more than just your average Happy Meal tie-in.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

the whole world + the work = the whole world

When I walked by this piece of conceptual text art the other night, at the corner of Leroy and Greenwich streets in the West Village, I knew I'd seen it before somewhere. Not this particular iteration of it, but the words, the equation, the latter-day aphorism, if you will.

Turns out, it's based on, or it is, a work by British artist Martin Creed that first appeared on the front of the Tate Britain in London back in 2000. Now since it's a conceptual work and not a painted canvas, say, I'm left wondering whether this is actually the work of Creed, or whether it's someone using Creed's construction for their own display. (If anyone knows for sure, please tell me.)

Creed was the famous/infamous artist who won the £20,000 Turner Prize in 2001, which was announced by Madonna, who famously/infamously uttered "a four-letter outburst during the live broadcast, for which Channel 4 had to apologise because it was before the 9pm watershed," as the BBC reported it. Among his more notorious works that year was Work No. 227: The lights going on and off, which took the form of an empty gallery at the Tate Britain in which the existing overhead lights were programmed to go on for five seconds and off for five seconds, on for five, off for five, etc. — at once, a genius vision of simplicity and an emperor-has-no-clothes moment.
Turner Prize History: Martin Creed [Tate]

UPDATE: Turns out it is an official Creed piece: Work No. 300: the whole world + the work = the whole world (2003) Paint on wall. 18" high x 77'5 1/2" long. Link is from the art gallery Gavin Brown's Enterprise.

Round o' shout-outs

Today, some nods around the blog-o-sphere and friend-o-sphere. Some of these items are mentioned on the friends' blogs; some are just news about friends who have blogs.

» Daryl wrote an obituary today for William Gottlieb, the 89-year-old photographer known for famous pictures of jazz greats, such as an iconic profile shot of Billie Holiday. [DarylLang.com]

» Sarah's moving to the Upper West Side, and just got back from Greece, where she stayed in an insanely awesome resort hotel room. She's got the pix to prove it. [FinishingTheHat]

» Inspired by the latest "Fake Writer" scandal involving Harvard sophmore author Kaavya Viswanathan, fellow New Jerseyite Caren figures out which N.J. mall could have inspired the line "170 specialty shops later" in multiple novels. [AddledWriter]

» The water service to Carly's apartment in Istanbul has been shut off, and thus she's happily counting down the days until her return to the U.S. "Let me tell you, carrying water from the fountain at the local mosque is the most unique cultural adventure I wish I hadn't had. ... I hereby capitulate. Global adventure is dirty." [EnglishTravels]

» Kristina's moving to her own apartment in beautiful New Cumberland, Pa. [21Humor]

» Emily's getting ready for her big cross-country move to L.A. [CallMeTheBreeze]

» Raina was recognized for her poetry this evening by Cave Canem Foundation. [OwningTheSails]

» Cait recently introduced the time-honored classroom science activity of the Egg Drop to her students in China. [ChinaGirl]

Heights, represent!

It's always nice to see the Site Meter skyrocket from some more-influential outside link, but I had to laugh a little when I saw how Gothamist played the link they posted to my Tunnel Street photo. "[CitySpecific] goes up to 191st Street on the 1 Train, and checks out ..." It's written as if I were actually a downtown resident, and not a regular user of that sorry tunnel. I'll have to dissuade Jake D. of this notion if I ever bump into him.
Photo of the Day: Subway Tunnel Exploration [Gothamist]

Monday, April 24, 2006

Love & Revenge

Forgive the blurry photo, please. I snapped it from the mezzanine at the Lucille Lortel Theatre tonight following a benefit show for the LAByrinth Theater Company called "Love & Revenge." It was "curated by" playwright John Patrick Shanley (Doubt), who showed up in a funky artist outfit: jeans, green sport jacket, loose red tie and playing-card T-shirt. He's the gray-haired guy just to the left of the woman in the yellow slicker. The evening was, to use his words, "an insane boulubaise" that somehow managed to entertain, a variety show if you will. Shanley wrote all the skits, and, I guess, chose all the love-in-strife songs, like "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and "Live and Let Die." One of the highlights of the evening was getting to hear the singing of young cabaret star Maude Maggart, who, as Jonathan Schwartz always likes to remind us, is the sister of Fiona Apple (or Fiona is Maude's sister, depending on your outlook). That's her in the black dress right next to the woman in yellow. Also singing her heart out tonight, but in a different style from Maude, was that one-named up-and-comer Orfeh, whose many credits include voiceovers for, yes, the video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas." Gotta love IMDB, they really cover all the bases.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A Tribute to Great Cities

After tea and wine and photos yesterday, we saw a great concert by the Brooklyn Philharmonic at BAM. The theme was world cities, and it featured the international cabaret singer Ute Lemper. I knew her from a recording that I own where she does Berlin cabaret songs from the Weimar Republic days translated into English. But she showed herself to be quite the versatile and unique performer last night, singing in several different languages, and introducing a lot of the songs with a depth and eloquence that only added to the music. Her songs came in two sets, before and after intermission and complemented by orchestral pieces, conducted by the talented Michael Christie, who wore a long coat and tie in lieu of the usual tuxedo. And while I enjoyed listening to Lemper's second set more than the first, both showed her capabilities. Highlights from that second set included the tango king Astor Piazzolla's "Buenos Aires," Kurt Weill's "Bilbao Song," Kander and Ebb's "All That Jazz," and a really powerful song by Lemper herself called "The Ghosts of Berlin," about the life of the Berlin Wall ("10,260 days") and her experience and memory of it. For her encore, she did a Gershwin medley of "I Got Rhythm" and "Naughty Baby."

While Lemper was off stage, the orchestra played a suite from Bernstein's On the Town, the third movement of which was the most memorable; a toe-tapping jazz-tinged selection called Manhattan Broadcasts by the contemporary Austrian composer H.K. Gruber; and a sound-effects piece called Sampler Suite from Surrogate Cities by the German avant-garde composer Heiner Goebbels. That last piece was a bit long for my liking, but interesting to hear in its own way. The orchestra was miked and balanced with a keyboard-powered sampler. It was one of those pieces that sounds very random, and has some startlingly good moments, but doesn't really rise or fall over time. And the choice of notes felt so abstract that when a valve on a French horn fell off and hit the stage during the performance, the sound it made seemed to fit into the composition; ditto for the unwrapping of a candy next to us in the auditorium. At times, it reminded me of minimalist Steve Reich's work matching recorded sound and live performers. In some of Reich's pieces, he has the instruments appear to imitate the rise and fall of repeated snippets of recorded speech. Still there's something about Reich's pieces that ends up being more satisfying to hear than this Goebbels suite.

A real treat of the evening was to see the black-and-white film The City, for which Brooklyn native Aaron Copland composed the score. The focus was on the images and the music, so we didn't hear architecture critic Lewis Mumford's narration. But the argument was clear enough: Mumford actually saw the cities of his day as dangerous, dehumanizing, machine-driven places where people become cogs in a wheel, whereas the communities of the countryside — or what we'd later come to know as the suburbs of the 20th century — allow for true and innocent human life to flourish. This argument was a bit of a shock to me at first, because I assumed that the film would show the majesty and diversity and verve of cities. I've read a little bit of Mumford, mostly his critique of new buildings in NYC, but this bias toward such Jeffersonian ideals never quite clicked until now. As happens these days when we watch B&W documentaries and newsreels that smack so much of propoganda, the audience laughed during several segments, especially the sped-up segment showing sandwiches and pancakes being created assembly-line style and consumed as quickly by emotionless people, as well as the one that depicted traffic gridlock and a taxicab's meter ticking away the nickels. (Yes, five-cent increments!) Still, I love hearing Copland's music, it feels so unabashedly American — but in a good way — like reading poetry by Walt Whitman (another denizen of Bklyn) or watching Frank Capra movies.

Tunnel Street revealed

So I've been posting about "Tunnel Street" — the three-block-long underground pedestrian walkway that connects the 191st Street station for the 1 train with Broadway and the outside world — for a while now without revealing what it looks like. I didn't want to freak out any gentle readers. I assure you that the feeling that you're walking through an ancient jail or mental institution dissipates after a while. But here it is, looking better than usual actually, because the NYC Sanitation crews must've come through recently with paint for the walls to get rid of the graffiti. The painters were clearly very sloppy with the spare paint, so the ground currently looks like an imitation Jackson Pollock canvas with lots of splashes and swirls. It was those splotches on the ground that I noticed first this morning before realizing the walls had been whitewashed. I usually don't mind seeing street art (aka graffiti) around the city, but when it's in a three-block-long tunnel, I can do without it.

Sympathy for the Kettle, Astor Center

In the same building — 109 St. Marks Pl. — where Zen One Sushi used to be and where I had one of my first great experiences with those delectable raw fishies, there is a nearly-as-enchanting eatery called Sympathy for the Kettle, a tea shop with a small scattering of tables inside. We had a pot of white peach tea, steeped to perfection, and a pair of tarts — mine was chocolate covered with raspberry in the middle. Definitely worth a return visit to this East Village gem.

Also visited the new Astor Center, 399 Lafayette St., for the first time since they moved. It makes the old Astor Wines, which did have a fair amount of charm, look sad in comparison. A really attractive below-street-level space with many more wine racks, a walk-in cool room, a bar for tastings, and what looked like a lab in the back for who-knows-what ... perhaps forensic wine experimentation.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Deconstructed Calder

Spotted outside City Hall on Friday afternoon. It's for a new outdoor exhibit in the park there featuring five steel stabiles created by Alexander Calder from 1957 to 1976.
Calders for Everyone at City Hall Park [NYTimes]

Friday, April 21, 2006

I really need to see a Robert Wilson production

After reading this post on Flying Vicar Musings about Peer Gynt at BAM, which is over now, and this NYT review of Lohengrin at the Met, which has four performances to go, I realized it's about time I saw a production designed by Robert Wilson. I've been interested in his work since I first learned about Philip Glass' Einstein on the Beach and his R.W. collaboration in 1976, which always sounded like it would've been sensational to see — the tick-tocking music and the production design working so well together. So at the moment, it looks like my best chance is the Met.

Luxe ex-YMCA loft for $8.95mil

That swanky five-bedroom, 5.5-bath party pad in Chelsea where we had the Curbed-Inman-Craigslist party — and I met the almighty yet self-effacing Craig et al — is back on the market! Guess that "offer" that people were talking about back in January didn't crystallize into a contract. Asking price has been slashed by more than 10%: $8.95 million, down from $10 million.
Listing: 213 West 23rd Street [Elliman]
You can drink free at the YMCA [CS]

Wyeth exhibit at PMA

Growing up, I was captivated by Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World," due in no small part to my parents' appreciation for the work and its title, but also because it's just a great painting. The woman alone in a field has her back to the viewer, and based on her long hair and dress, I often assumed it was a young girl. Only later did I look at her hands and see the hints of gray in her hair and learn that the woman who posed for the painting was actually much older than a teenager. "Christina's World" was hanging in the MoMA when last I visited, and it's not included in the new Andrew Wyeth exhibit, "Memory and Magic," at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

But a similar confusion surfaces in two reviews of the show by Times critic Ken Johnson and Inquirer critic Ed Sozanski. Johnson looks at the painting "Otherworld" (2002) and sees "a girl in a thickly padded, leather-upholstered seat." But Sozanski seems to know better: It's "Betsy Wyeth, the artist's wife, [sitting] in a small passenger jet." In some ways, this differing interpretation reflects the reviews as a whole. While each makes good points, Sozanski reads more like the passionate sportswriter praising the hometown hero (the Wyeths' beloved Brandywine Valley is just outside the Philly suburbs), while Johnson feels more like the national-paper scribe parachuting into the art outpost for a look-see. While Johnson isn't entirely dismissive, he looks at the Wyeth family's wealth, as evidenced by the private plane in "Otherworld," and finds his work to evoke the look of high-fashion lifestyle magazines: "'Groundhog Day' would make a fine illustration for a Pottery Barn ad. Insert a model in rugged clothes, and you would have a Ralph Lauren ad." ... "Call it Martha Stewart existentialism." He criticizes Wyeth for painting the country without depicting much rural strife: "the world he constructs starts to seem too airlessly tasteful and imaginatively closed up." Meanwhile, Sozanski seems to be more accepting of the idea that Wyeth's paintings evoke "dreams, feelings, sensations and omens that can't always be explained." In contrast to Johnson's Pottery Barn comparison, Johnson writes: "Although many of his paintings involve people, or are straight portraits, I find 'object' paintings like 'Groundhog Day' more moving and intense, more pregnant with sublimated emotion." I've seen many of the Wyeths' works at the Brandywine River Museum (the late N.C., father of Andrew, and Jamie, the 60-year-old son of Andrew, are the other famous artists in the family), but I'm looking forward to catching this show in Philadelphia with these two differing reviews in mind.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

NPR's All Songs Considered

How great is it that this radio program posts entire concert sets from the 9:30 Club for free online? Since discovering the one by Neko Case, I've enjoyed extended MP3 recordings by Belle & Sebastian and Martha Wainwright, riding the subway today. Next up on my to-download list: Sigur Ros, The Shins and Lucinda Williams.
All Songs Considered [NPR]

UPDATE: OK, so it's still pretty cool, but not all the concerts are in MP3 form. Only the more recent ones. The rest you have to stream over the internet and can't take with you on the iPod.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Review: [title of show]

It would be easy and perhaps too simplistic to link this chamber musical, which was recently extended through April 30 at the Vineyard Theater, with the likes of The Musical of Musicals: The Musical and Forbidden Broadway, because of the shameless way that it courts the funnybones of theater geeks. And yes, the more you know about theater, the funnier this show will probably be. But while those other shows are built almost entirely on parodies of musical theater past and present, [title of show] actually manages to be a deeper work and more accessible to the average viewer, partly because it wears its heart on its sleeve so much. The understanding you get after seeing this show is that to poke fun at Broadway and its millieu is to secretly love all its eccentricities and personalities. It's more proof that you can be post-modern and still keep your ideals.

The show, which is an elaborate self-referential riff on two guys and their two female friends rushing to complete a musical in three weeks, manages to create a few touching moments of nostalgia for childhood dreams of the dramatic life without falling entirely into sappiness. Just when you think the show is going to get un-self-consciously cliche, it cracks the right joke, and likewise, before those worries about the work becoming a pile of fluff and nothingness, the players find just the right heartstrings to pull. Heidi Blickenstaff especially deserves credit for a scene-stealing turn in the number "A Way Back to Then," which sort of sneaks up on you, and makes you sit there and enjoy listening to a wonderful ballad sung well. (They tricked us!)

All that said, there are so many theater references flying by in the text, the music and the staging, that it's hard to know how many there really are. Among the more notable ones: the Cats cell-phone ring; the answer-machine messages a la Rent from Broadway divas like Victoria Clark and Marin Mazzie; references to the original Annie, Andrea McArdle; the scene that immitates the finale to Into the Woods; shoutouts to Comden and Green, the creators of Wonderful Town; mentions of the three great S's: Shakespeare, Sondheim and Sedaris; and so many other jokes that are funny because they seem so familiar even if I couldn't place them immediately in the history of musical theater. Overall, a great show, and well worth the standing ovation it got at tonight's performance.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Neko Case online concert

Unfortunately, it appears my musical obsession of the moment, Neko Case, isn't scheduled to play any live concerts in the NYC-Philly area at the moment. Fortunately, NPR's "All Songs Considered" recorded a show she did with Martha Wainwright at the 9:30 Club in D.C. earlier this month; it's free and posted in its entirety online. (At 7'30" or so, she even gives a shoutout to the program.) If you've never heard of Neko Case, her solo work has been described as folksy art rock, alt-country, and gospel-tinged "country noir." No need to be scared away by the word "country" — I'd been listening to her new album for a while before I realized the influence. My only complaint is that some of her songs are just too short; I keep wanting them not to end so soon.
Neko Case, Martha Wainwright [NPR Live Concert Series]

Just in case you needed another reason not to own a car in Manhattan

Spotted tonight on Broadway in Washington Heights.

A stray thought brought on by a passage of Daniel Handler's new book 'Adverbs'

We used to add — only half-jokingly — the phrase "if we're still talking" to plans we made or discussed. There were times when it seemed more realistic to use such a disclaimer, but others when it was more of a playful reference, an inside joke, a shared world. I used to think that time would never come. I even thought it after we were no longer seeing each other every day, even after we were talking again (sort of) after not talking for three months, even a few days ago. Wouldn't I avoid a lot of wasted thought and worry if I could just accept the idea that it's finally come to pass, that we're not still talking?

Space age

I gladly acknowledge that I grew up a suburbanite, but having lived in smallish dorms and apartments for going on seven years now, I feel something different whenever I return to my parents' house now. It can probably best be summed up with my joking question this past Saturday: "What do you guys do with all this space?" Of course, I don't mind having extra rooms to use occasionally during weekend trips home, but it's not as hard as I once thought to get accustomed to living in small quarters. Just as a rising salary can make it hard for one to go back to living on the cheap, the same can happen in the opposite direction for space. Now that I've gotten used to living in three rooms, I don't necessarily yearn for more. If I weren't living alone, I'd probably feel differently, and someday if I get married and have children, a studio will probably seem kind of paltry. But at this point in my life, I like having just enough space. And going forward, I hope I never walk into a room that I own or rent and say, "What's the point of this space?"

RELATED: While older and more affirmed in his singleness, Terry Teachout blogged on similar feelings at About Last Night yesterday.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Awesome photos, but no drama

The Pulitzer Prizes were announced today. The Washington Post won the most awards, with four, but the real focus was on the Katrina-related winners in the South. I was really captivated by the winning work in the feature photography category, taken by Todd Heisler of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. It's a behind-the-scenes look at the flag-draped caskets that are returning from Iraq and the finished lives that they hold and the unfinished lives that they touch. There are some images that are really powerful, often made all the more so by the captions — an important reminder that an important aspect of photojournalism is the text that accompanies the art. I haven't read it all yet, but the story by Jim Sheeler that accompanied the photos also won a Pulitzer. I've linked to Daryl's story on the photo award winners below. Meanwhile, in the drama category, for whatever reason, none of the finalists, including Adam Rapp's Red Night Winter, was deemed good enough to actually win the prize; no award was given in the category this year — something I realized only after understanding that "No Award" was not the name of a play written last year.
Gulf Coast Newspapers Share Pulitzer [NYT]
Dallas Morning News Staff, Rocky Mountain News' Heisler Win Photo Pulitzers [PDN]
Feature Photography: Rocky Mountain News, Todd Heisler, 2006 [Pulitzer]

PostSecret's coming to NYC

According to the site, one of my favorite weekly reads, there's going to be a PostSecret discussion and book signing May 3 at 7pm in the Borders at the Time Warner Center.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Northeast Corridor

I don't ride NJ Transit's Northeast Corridor Line enough to know the schedule inside and out, but at some point, they started running ultra-express trains at peak times and in peak directions that skip 10 stops along the route. I took one of these yesterday. We left N.Y. Penn Station at 6:01 and pulled into Hamilton, N.J., at 7:01. It technically shaves only about 15 minutes off the regular express train, but there's something about getting there in an hour, having stopped only in Secaucus, Newark, and Princeton Jct., that makes it feel extra speedy. So you can get from the Heights to Downtown Brooklyn, in about the same time it takes to get from Midtown to just outside Trenton. It's almost like living in the 21st century.

The cat came back

Or more like ... out. A happy ending for the tale that the Times and probably other news outlets were quickly spinning into a meta-tale about itself this week: "At one point, the Internet search engine Google counted at least 359 articles about Molly posted on the Web..." An earlier dispatch read more like a story about how the story of a cat stuck in a wall in a British food shop became such a big story worldwide. I've been to that store, Myers of Keswick at 634 Hudson St., a few times before, and it was usually empty, but I'd imagine this coverage could end up making the place more popular, if only among those hoping to meet 11-month-old Molly. Bonus tidbit: The owner's name really is Myers: Peter Myers.
The Fraidy-Cat of Hudson Street Is Yanked to Safety [NYT]

Friday, April 14, 2006

Donut money

This is too priceless not to share. Writes the Flickr user staceyjoy, who uploaded the image: "I gladly accepted donut money from a customer the other day. It's now pinned on the wall for emergency donut needs."

'60 Seconds' series at Ironic Sans

If you've got a minute, this blog's got a movie for you. And if you've got eight minutes, you can watch all the movies in the series. In the latest crazy use for internet video, Ironic Sans has turned its attention to such exciting subjects as a wall of rotating laundry machines, a 42nd Street steam vent, the escalators for Whole Foods at the Time Warner Center, a staircase at the MoMA (above) ... and shot them all for about a minute from the same perspective. Are you on the edge of your seat yet? While these videos aren't exactly captivating, I gotta give the guy credit for coming up with the concept and carrying it out with such devotion. However, I'm a little concerned with the direction the series is taking. The latest subject — barking sea lions on a pier, likely in SanFran — is almost too interesting to fit in exactly with its predecessors. Ditto for Part 7, which spotlights the "Life of Landing Gear" and comes with this testimonial from the creator: "If you only see one 60-second movie this year, see this one. Seriously. I think it’s my favorite. It actually gets my heart racing every time I watch it." Indeed. But back when I first delicious'd this series, I was reminded instead of Andy Warhol's film work Empire, which is about eight hours and six minutes of one stationary shot of the Empire State Building (and is actually in the collection at the MoMA). David of Ironic Sans, to me, had sort of updated the concept and scaled it down for people with more average attention spans and less patience for avant-garde statements. Now, I fear he's gone and sold out. What next? I can only imagine it will be something like "60 Seconds in the Life of a Car Chase" or something equally commercial.
Filed under “60 Seconds” [Ironic Sans]

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bird through some wire

This bird that I saw in Central Park last weekend had such colorful plumage; unfortunately, it wouldn't cooperate by looking my way, so this was the best shot I got. If there are any ornithologists out there, do you know what kind of bird it is?

Strepitus

I attended a Tenebrae service tonight for Holy Week. Very moving. Some great music for organ and choir, including the "Libera me" from Faure's Requiem, which as a whole is one of my favorite works of music and definitely a desert-island disc. (The "Sanctus" and "Agnus Dei" are especially wonderful.) As the service progresses, there is a diminution of light; altar candles are put out one by one, and someone flicks the switch on the sanctuary's lights as well.

In the end, we're left with a single candle in an otherwise dark church, and from the choir balcony comes the strepitus — a loud clatter intended to evoke the earthquake that was said to happen at the moment of death. Having never heard it before, I was a little skeptical. At tonight's service, they used loud dissonance on the organ and some unseen metal sheets to create the strepitus. The church was entirely dark, except for a few tiny votives off to the side. A few headlights from outside traced their way through the nave at one point. The noise continued and seemed to grow louder. The combined effect was really quite affecting. Eventually, the lights were turned on. We all left in near silence.

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Redesign alert (not this page)

Daryl, proud Brooklynite and ur-blogger for many of us, is back and sporting a new online look for spring! (Some of you may have even found this page by clicking through from Daryl's generous list of links.) No, his redesigned site isn't exactly a daily blog like it once was, but it's the next best thing: a teaser page for some of the best stuff he's writing at work, with occasional other news tidbits from the life of D tossed in for good measure. Still, it does make you miss the daily dose of days gone by. Oh, well. Onward and upward.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Trivia report

Our massive team ended just out of the money tonight. Our team name was "Apple Moses-tini" (think Gwyneth), which we thought was pretty funny, except that there was another team that had a name that was actually a run-on sentence in the voice of a kid, so that one got the big laughs. Two of the five rounds were such niche categories of knowledge that it wasn't as fun as usual. The "general knowledge" round was all about the Archie Comics, which we learned has been around for nearly 65 years! I had a grade school friend who used to read them religiously, but I never got into them except during sleepovers at his house, and that was more than 12 years ago! The visual round, meanwhile, was devoted to the Little Rascals. I think I once saw the end of the '94 movie while I was flipping through the channels, and that's about the extent of my knowledge. Only somewhat balancing things out was the audio round, which featured Beatles covers. Still, we didn't get all 10. Among those to perform Beatles songs over the years: John Denver, En Vogue and the Beastie Boys.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Remains of the day

The names of the people who used to live in your apartment. The truck with the snow plow and the oil change sign. The immigration law rally and the 4 train that didn't leave the station. The Park View Restaurant. Isham Park. Broken eggs, one still whole. Personal landmarks. A patchwork of other people's lives. Shrink-wrapped dog bones. Peppermint patties. Burned CDs. The question of therapy. World clocks. Long-deleted webpages. The years before you knew someone. Wanting to sleep near the television. To take the pill tonight or not. Endless snail-mail solicitations. April 17. Certified mail. How quickly midnight approaches. Coming home to five dogs. Mixing up cell phones. The sitcom's twist ending. The question: Are you happy? The pause. The answer. The fear the pain hasn't gone away entirely. Not enough alone time. Too much alone time. Not enough sleep. Kronenberg 1664. The accent. The choice of languages years ago. The minutes of sleep time ticking away.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Does the rise of internet search mean the fall of great headlines?

"So news organizations large and small have begun experimenting with tweaking their Web sites for better search engine results. But software bots are not your ordinary readers: They are blazingly fast yet numbingly literal-minded. There are no algorithms for wit, irony, humor or stylish writing. The software is a logical, sequential, left-brain reader, while humans are often right brain."
This Boring Headline Is Written for Google [NYTimes]

White, blue and green

Same tree as before, but from a different angle.

Black, white and blue

Sunday afternoon in Central Park.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Little Manhattan

Not since You've Got Mail has there been a movie so in love with the Upper West Side as Little Manhattan. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as another semi-fictional UWS'er would say. The characters shop at Fairway, hang around the above-ground subway entrance at 72nd Street, wear the neighborhood on their T-shirts: Fordham Law, the American Museum of Natural History. The little boy narrator also has a Strand Bookstore shirt, but it's hard to tell if he's actually been there.

When the 10-year-old narrator suggests that his divorcing father could move into a great place in the West Village, the father looks at him like he's crazy, dismissing the possibility — mostly because he says he'd be too far from his son, but still. This conversation comes right after a funny scene where the little boy and the 11-year-old girl with whom he's fallen in puppy love take the subway downtown to meet a broker to look at a two-bedroom apartment on Grove Street with "treetop views" and WBF. ("That means a wood-burning fireplace," says the girl, whose wealthy parents go to open houses on the weekend for fun.) The broker is tapping away on his PDA when the young couple roll up on the boy's scooter, and he's about to walk away when the little girl says to the broker what she believes to be the magic words: "You want your commission, right?"

The character's name is "Rosemary Telesco," and the way the little boy repeats it, first and last name together, definitely took me back to grade school when we all seemed to refer to our fellow classmates that way.

While the Upper West Side — in this case, mostly between West 72nd and 81st streets — is a relatively safe place as city neighborhoods go, you do have to suspend disbelief a bit as the rather innocent boy is allowed to roam that area alone on his scooter. The parents do freak out, though, following his little unchaperoned real estate adventure in the Village, during which Rosemary stops into a tattoo parlor to ask directions and a ragged-looking guy on the street warns the little boy that his love-struck heart is going to take a beating so he should get out while he can.

New York references aside, I thought it was a pretty charming take on the romantic comedy genre. A couple does get together in the end (and the closing shot is yet another UWS reference), but it's not the little boy and the little girl, although they manage to part amicably. While I wasn't that young when I first started really paying attention to girls, it certainly captured some of that early drama and childhood perspective — like the feeling that two and a half weeks with someone can change everything but six weeks apart would be like an eternity. It's easy to laugh now, but at the time, oh, it was serious stuff. And as far as we can come from that first love or kiss or crush or moment of holding each other's sweaty hands under the table, a part of us is still that little boy or that little girl, who wants to revel in the joy of love, to look around and see the other person's name written across, say, the marquee at the Beacon Theater, to be taken seriously and want things to last.

On a side note, I was a little surprised to learn that this movie never really got into wide distribution. It maxed out at 35 theaters, and took in less than half a million dollars. I didn't think all the NYC references would be so off-putting that it wouldn't play well elsewhere. And while it's rated PG, I thought it was more than interesting enough to watch as an adult.

Heart Tower

It's almost finished, but in the meantime, the multistory atrium is all lit up inside the refurbished base.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Bobby Baby!

The latest revival of Stephen Sondheim's Company, which is getting accolades for its Cincinnati run featuring Raul Esparza as Robert, is coming to Broadway by the end of this year! [NYTimes, Playbill]

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Christine Grillo

On the way out of the Ashbery poetry reading, I picked up the Spring '06 issue of LIT, a literary magazine published by the New School's Writing Program, and on the subway ride home, I was riveted by a sharp and well-constructed story by Christine Grillo called "Lessons, Senior English." It's from a teacher's perspective, and I love the way it alternates between the supposed omniscience of the adult at the front of the class ("Every boy wrote the same story, even Kyle, the one I knew was gay") and the struggles she doesn't want to admit ("Who's better off, Antonia or Lolita? I thought I could learn something from that essay if only I could assign it"). It's also fun because it made me think about what teachers might have been thinking as they taught us the classics cited in the story: "The Necklace," The Great Gatsby, The House on Mango Street, "The Lottery," Heart of Darkness ...

Poem-palooza in honor of John Ashbery

Tonight at the New School auditorium on West 12th Street, I went to a mass poetry reading in honor of John Ashbery, who was there, having made his way in from the side door right where I was sitting. (It was my second official celebrity sighting of the day, having shared an elevator ride with Chris Rock and his film crew posse earlier.) Right behind Ashbery was Billy Collins, strolling into the room, whom I've seen before, but it's always a treat to share room space with him.

I knew the Ashbery name and read some of his stuff in school, but none of it really stuck with me or affected me very deeply. So I attended this event more on the idea that there are people out there who truly respect his work and that there would be so many other poets in attendance.

The setup of the program was that each poet, appearing in alphabetical order, was to read one of Ashbery's works and then read one of their own, but as with any room full of artists, some eventually broke from that rule. Some read only a selection by the honoree. Some read their work first and then an Ashbery poem. One guy (David Shapiro) gushed about how Ashbery was the most amazing poet ever, and how he remembered everything that the man had ever said to him as if it were received wisdom from on high (my analogy, not his). Shapiro said, "[David Lehman] asked me not to give anecdotes and I won't," even as he was giving anecdotes. Later, he said of Ashbery, "I've always wanted him to get the Nobel Prize, but now that would be nothing," which evoked laughter from the audience.

So because of this devolving setup, we in the audience found ourselves alternately clapping in the wake of Ashbery's work, or sitting on our hands while we waited for the individual poet to read their follow-up piece, or clapping loudly for an especially good poem by a reader (e.g., Collins), or breaking our rule and clapping between the Ashbery poem and the reader's own verse after especially good ones by the honoree, or otherwise when Shapiro started clapping insistently.

It was all very funny, and while I read poetry and know Collins' work well, I still felt like there had to be various hidden dynamics in play throughout the program.

Collins read a poem I've heard him do before called "January in Paris," in which he aims to skillfully and hilariously explode the maxim by Paul Valery that says, "A poem is never finished, only abandoned." It's a real showstopper to read aloud because it opens with these riffs on Frenchness and then it leads into an anthropomorphic take on Valery's quote that is at once a witty put-down and a fantasy worthy of any little boy writer who ever dreamed of having women swoon at his words.

Of course, Collins occasionally ends up being lambasted for somehow dumbing down the art of poetry by aiming for a more populist voice or going for big laughs. A guy sitting behind me hinted at such critiques, but couched it in the disclaimer, "Hey, that's just what the internet told me."

I haven't had time to do any internet research of my own, but here are the Ashbery poems I liked and intend to read again: "At North Farm," "To a Waterfowl," "The Problem with Anxiety," "Memories of Imperialism," "Title Search," and "My Philosophy of Life." And here are the poets who are new to me and whom I liked hearing: Douglas Crase, Vicki Hudspith, Deborah Landau, James Longenbach, Ron Padgett, Robert Polito, James Tate, and Dara Wier.

In all there were 24 poets on stage and an Ashbery in the front row. It would've been nice to hear him read some of his own stuff, but this event was part of a three-day Ashbery festival, and I guess they're saving him for later.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Three get TONY nods

At least three eateries I've mentioned in this space before popped up among readers' choices for Time Out NY's 2006 Eat Out Awards: They are Buttercup Bake Shop, for best new bakery (although I've yet to partake actually); Uva, for best new wine bar (although it's primarily a restaurant); and Alice's Tea Cup, for best afternoon-tea service (although they don't mention the City Island outpost).

UPDATE: Someone who lives near City Island has informed me that they closed the Alice's there. Can't say I'm surprised. Not enough street traffic to get people in.

Cab ride to stardom

Here's a New York City success story if ever I heard it: Melissa Plaut (aka M.P., aka New York Hack) has managed to parlay the recent attention she's garnered as a blogging female cab driver into a book deal with the Villard imprint at Random House, according to a post she did yesterday. Of all the bloggers to get book deals, I'd have to say she is the one of whom I'm the most proud (in a sibling-hood of blogs sort of way) and the least jealous.
An announcement [NewYorkHack]
Hail Melissa Plaut [CitySpecific]

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Cleaning out some Delicious links

» Admiring spring flowers on opposite sides of the globe. [ChinaGirl/Cait]
» JRB finally got around to getting a website and blog. He was also scheduled to play a show tonight at Birdland, something I discovered (unfortunately) about 18 minutes after it was to start. [JasonRobertBrown.com]
» Awesome, slick site devoted to highlighting several notable buildings in the Chicago skyline. Funky new-age music, too. [4178°/ChicagoArchitecture]
» On birthday boy Mozart: "He wrote about 650 pieces; why do we always hear the same old six?" [SeattleWeekly]
» Amazing round-up of current visual culture and arts events in the city at "This Week In New York," all on one really long page. [TWI-NY]

Water Lilies

I spent a good long time looking at Water Lilies (c. 1920) by Claude Monet this weekend at the MoMA. I've seen reproductions of this and other similarly themed works by the painter, but don't recall ever looking at it in person. I usually think of Monet as more of a late 19th-century impressionist than one of those whose work more clearly points toward the coming wave of modernism, but this triptych — which takes up an entire wall in the gallery, and used to hang out in the atrium during a previous rotation in the new building — really made me rethink that idea.

Yes, it's representational to some degree; you can point out the lilies, etc. But the way it plays with your expectations about what it's depicting — surface or underwater? sky or reflection of sky? lily or light on the water? — seems a good deal deeper and more challenging than some of his earlier and more placid works. There's a great quote at the end of the audio guide for this painting; unfortunately, it wasn't so great that I remember it, word for word, but it's about the first impression a viewer had upon seeing the work — how it evoked for him the primordial soup of ancient days, of what it might've been like to witness one scene in the creation of the world.
Unveiling Monet/Water Lilies [MoMA]

Brokeback is not going away yet

I was going to snap a photo of this when I saw it on the subway the other day, but uptown blogger Fish Drink Water went and did it already.
Brokeback -- Ugh. [FishDrinkWater]

'Very fond'

"You have to be very fond of men. Very, very fond. You have to be very fond of them to love them. Otherwise they're simply unbearable." I admit that I had to laugh a little despite myself when I heard Garrison Keillor read this quote by Marguerite Duras, born this day in 1914.
Tuesday 4 April 2006 [Writer'sAlmanac]

Monday, April 03, 2006

Sheep Meadow, still hibernating

Despite all the people out in Central Park this Sunday, there were still many sections, such as the Sheep Meadow, that weren't ready for prime time yet. This span of grass, at least, is set to open again in mid-April.

Five alive!

Maybe I just have art on the brain, what with all my recent visits to MoMA, but the first thing I recalled when I saw the new look of Fox 5's graphics was Charles Demuth's painting, The Figure 5 in Gold. What do you think, Simon?
Pretend to Care, FOX 5 Gets Facelift Too! [Gothamist]
Charles Demuth's painting... [WisdomPortal.com]

Numerology fun

In case you're into stuff like this, here's the text of an e-mail I got just a moment ago: "On Wednesday of [this] week, at two minutes and three seconds after 1:00 in the morning, the time and date will be 01:02:03 04/05/06. That won't ever happen again. :-)"

Unless of course you're in Europe, where they typically list the day before the month, instead of vice versa, and you can celebrate this totally meaningless alignment all over again on 4 May!

Again

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Building Stories

Are you reading Chris Ware's Building Stories in the Times Magazine? If not, maybe you should be. Today's was part 28, but all 27 previous parts are PDF'd and online. I've been following it on and off for the six months that it's been in the magazine's "Funny Pages," but I can see going back and reading it through in one sitting one day when I have time. Each installment takes anywhere from two to ten minutes to read, depending on how long you linger.

And while we're talking about it, check out the Times' redesigned homepage. My first impression? It's kinda, sorta reminiscent of New York magazine's new-ish look. Not an exact copy, but similar genes.

Lastly, a great little introduction to the artist Rachel Whiteread can be found here, from the NYTM's Design Spring 2006 supplement. One of her works is currently occupying the Tate Modern's massive Turbine Hall in London, as a part of the ongoing commission series there.

West 81st Street

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Recently on Curbed

More Bad News from Incredible Shrinking Synagogue
Soho Temple of Fashion Really Open Now, Seriously
BREAKING: Another Landslide in Washington Heights
Curbed BuildingSpotter Answers: 'Arches' and Mansard
More Top 10s Than You Can Shake an Offering Plan At
Roach Rant: Pleas for Pest Control in Stuy Town
Real Estate Poetry: Drunken Jay in EVill
UWS 'War Zone' Update: Street Level Skirmishes Go On
Real Estate Poetry: 'Leaving Dumbo,' for Pep Gay

Saturday hike

Scattered showers were in the forecast today, but they never materialized in any form other than a few drops here and there, at least along the Palisades in Jersey, where I took a 10-mile hike with a group this afternoon. Excellent views all along the Hudson, some 400 feet above the water in spots. Tracking our progress by the opposite shore, we spotted Inwood, the top of Manhattan, the Henry Hudson Bridge, Riverdale and the Bronx, then eventually, Yonkers, and even hints of Long Island Sound, off in the distance. I also got to identify the lone building that I often see looking directly across the river from Fort Tryon Park: It's the Englewood Cliffs campus of Saint Peter's College. Also spotted along our walk: lots of stone remnants of old estates that used to occupy the land where Palisades Interstate Park is now. At the end of the day, we took a bus from Alpine back to Manhattan.

Tonight I watched the movie Happy Endings, which wasn't really horrible, but wanted to be a lot better than it was. One really cool part, though, was hearing the actress Maggie Gyllenhaal sing. Her version of "Just the Way You Are," which closes the movie, is really worth a listen.

Google Romance

I totally fell for this the first time I saw it. Then I read the text a little closer, and realized it was a really sophisticated April Fool's joke: "Google Romance is a place where you can post all types of romantic information and, using our Soulmate Search™, get back search results that could, in theory, include the love of your life. Then we'll send you both on a Contextual Date™, which we'll pay for while delivering to you relevant ads that we and our advertising partners think will help produce the dating results you're looking for."

RMA, Monster Sushi

Seeing all the articles on Asia Week got me into a similar frame of mind last night, so A. and I checked out the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea, where the galleries are free to visit on Friday nights from 7 to 10. The museum also turns part of its ground floor space into K2 Lounge (in honor of the world's second highest peak), where we had a quick drink while we waited for the 7 o'clock hour to arrive. The museum, which opened less than two years ago, is devoted to art from the Himalayas, an interesting mission as it cuts across boundaries and draws in works from many countries in the region. A lot of the art, as you might imagine, reflects Buddhism and other faiths practiced there. One could even argue that the design of the building evokes the concept of samsara, the cycle of rebirth, since the interior is focused around a wide, gently sloping spiral staircase and each level's gallery is experienced by walking in a circle. There is a lot of effort on the title cards — which include names in the Sanskrit and Tibetan languages besides English — to bring the concepts depicted home to the average viewer, and the more I looked, the more I could start to see similarities to Western Christian-inspired art. At the same time, I also wished I could remember more about what I'd learned back in my world religions class.

For dinner, we headed a few blocks north to Monster Sushi, which was packed with people. Still, we didn't have to wait for a table. As I was mentioning in an e-mail, this chain with a Godzilla theme in the decor is reasonably priced, yet not so cheap that they don't still deliver warm, moist towels to each table for you to clean your hands before the meal, a touch I always find to be special.