Monday, June 30, 2008

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

Remember that amazing emotion-inducing Pulitzer-Prize-winning WaPo article about Joshua Bell playing incognito in the Metro? Read this. The story, as in how this article came to be and what preceded it, just became even more astounding. (The same violin! It's almost like a less melodramatic version of The Red Violin, the soundtrack of which Bell performed on.)

UPDATE: Gene Weingarten also wrote a satirical column on the supposed decline of copy editors that doubles as an exercise in copy editing.

TheBurg shout-out

You haven't checked out TheBurg.tv in a while, have you? You're missing out! And you're not helping them create Season 2, either. Hit 'em up. Prove people do watch internet sitcoms. (Especially ones with lots of great PSU connections.) One of the guys was in a band called Holy Mary Mother of Bert back in the day! If that isn't a good reason, I don't know what is.

O Wall-E, Wall-E, or The Water is Wide

"Looks like it's going to start up again out there," said the Union Square Whole Foods cashier as she loaded my contributions to Sunday afternoon's patio barbecue with J. and co. into a double-bagged paper sack. (They've gotten rid of disposable plastic bags, of course, and I had wondered for a moment whether I was going to have to pay for a carryall like at Ikea these days.) It was still dry as I took the steps down to the L for Brooklyn, but the Floridian-like weather pattern was making its presence felt again by the time I got out at Graham Ave. and waited under one of the sleek new bus shelters that only do so much when the rain is really coming down. The bus didn't show up soon enough to prevent me from scrapping the wait and giving in to a soaking. The BQE overpass eventually provided some slightly derelict respite and a moment to contemplate the weekend's culture.

The Times reporters might've added another item to their list of lesser-known New York City waterfalls, had they seen the drain pipes gushing or the highway ledges leaking yesterday. Unseen cars rushing by above added to the aquatic display as they splashed through puddles, spraying water over the edge. Somehow, the sum effect was more bracing than what I'd experienced on my (abbreviated) bike tour of Olafur Eliasson's $15 million contribution to the East River waterfront. A good solid thunderstom can do that to me, and there was something about being both caught outside and yet somewhat protected from the elements that delivered the kind of mind-to-body reaction that I thought of the other day during the artist's talk. The Waterfalls will be around for a few months, so I'll have more time to live around them and perhaps come up with different experiences, but I guess at the very least they made me see the art in the drainage of the highway. (And I guess the BQE is becoming something of a muse these days, what with Sufjan Stevens' recent work by that title at BAM and all.)

The other thing I couldn't help thinking about was my soggy earth-friendly paper bags, which seemed to be biodegrading before my eyes. They weren't going to make it to the get-together, let alone be around 700 years from now for a little robot like Wall-E to clean up. The movie, however, is bound to become a classic and here's hoping sticks in our collective memory for years to come. The first half is one of the most artistic things ever created in the animated form. You really do forget you're watching a cartoon. The opening sequence with the combination of a slightly hokey but still endearing and upbeat show tune and a deeply realized post-apocalytpic urban landscape is up there with the beginning to Woody Allen's Manhattan in my thinking. Much has been made about the lack of traditional dialogue through the first half. I didn't find that made things drag at all. If anything, things happen more quickly than I expected. We're introduced to the shape and feel of a future Earth with little extra time to zone out. The satire of the second half is just playful enough without losing all of its bite -- or its self-awareness. And the end titles are a masterpiece in and of themselves: a name-that-style, whirlwind tour through the history of art, complete with 1980s-style video-game graphics of the film's characters to finish things off. I look forward to seeing it again.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lunch with Olafur

The New York City Waterfalls, after several weeks of much-blogged-about testing, were officially turned on today, complete with the obligatory presser. I'm going to withhold judgment until I see them in person, but I have to say it was cool to hear an almost hourlong talk by Olafur Eliasson, the artist behind the latest privately funded public-art spectacle. His talk kind of meandered from a recent lunch he had with Al Gore and how we like to think about making a difference in the world through to his past work (a brief flood in Johannesburg, dyeing rivers in European capitals, creating a second sun for the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall) and into his current piece. It was enjoyable to try to follow, even if I didn't grasp it all. His art, if I got what he was trying to convey correctly, aims to question the indifference that normative spaces can induce. He wants to stop us from becoming numb to our surroundings and become aware of how concepts move from mental space into physical space. So many spaces aim to be static and purely functional, without encouraging us to engage in any way except the ones that had been planned or intended.

As an example, he cited the difference between neoclassical architecture and some postmodern structures. The former appeal to a static historicism, while the later sometimes aim to highlight the subjective nature of our experience - they try to be more "fluid" while at the same time serving the purpose of buildings for time immemorial: shelter of one kind or another. His thinking really appeals to me: leading the viewer to see the world in a different way, to become more aware of how we see, how it may differ from others, and the duality of unity and diversity that disagreeing within a particular space can bring. In the case of the city's four transient waterfalls, it's about reminding ourselves that we live on an archipelago, surrounded by flowing water. He spoke of how New York City's skyline is so embedded into postcard-like or iconic images that we forget it's a moving, changing entity that's constantly being made and remade by our experiences and actions. He didn't actually mention 9/11, but that represented a particularly horrific moment of awareness in the changeability of our urban landscape. The fact that these waterfalls have been arrayed around lower Manhattan evokes for me a positive and renewing force just a stone's throw from the trade-center scar.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The cost of free, opera in Brooklyn edition

Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu sang with the Met Opera Orchestra and Chorus in Prospect Park on Friday night. We had our wine (if not the best, at least it was free). We had our picnic dinner. We had a small hill and jumbo screens to see the performers well. We didn't have latecomers stomping all over our space like at the Philharmonic last year. We did have smokers. We were surrounded in a ring of smoke, you might say. Supposedly, there was an announcement at the beginning to please not smoke, but I missed it and thus didn't have the courage to go up to one particularly egregious bunch and plead for their forbearance. The singing and music was still great, despite the low-circling police copter during the first half. Although, seven encores is overdoing it a little bit, worldwide opera stars or no. (We left after four or five for the hour-plus subway ride home.) They should've just been honest and added a few of the songs into the printed program instead of going on and on as if people were screaming for more. Still, I admit I got goosebumps during Alagna's version of "Nessun dorma." Somewhere, perhaps, Pavarotti was smiling.

Jefferson storm

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Star struck again

I saw Connie Britton today, the actress who plays the wife of the high school football coach (Kyle Chandler in a career defining role) on NBC's "Friday Night Lights." Readers of this space know how much I love this show. I was about 90 percent sure it was her, and then confirmed it for sure later on. We made eye contact as I passed, but I didn't have the guts to stop and gush about how great I think her work on the show is, and how glad I was to learn that it's coming back for another season, albeit in a novel (yet frustrating for me) arrangement where it'll be just on a satellite channel in the fall before playing on NBC in the winter. This is one of those shows that hangs on for dear life because it's not among the most popular, but it has a strong critical following. I don't know if it's strange enough to deem it a cult following, but it's something like that. I guess I could've stopped and told her all this, but it would've felt weird. That's what teenagers do, I thought. I see famous people pretty frequently, but it's usually the second-tier celebs (like Chip Kidd, who I'm pretty darn sure was finishing up a slice of pizza in his running clothes the other day near the Random House building) that cause me to stop and consider accosting for a moment of interaction, before usually scrapping the idea, all within a few seconds sometimes. One of the few times I can remember actually speaking to the person was - how's this for utterly random? - Amanda Bakker, the (now-estranged, I learn) wife of Jay Bakker, preacher son of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, who was featured in a documentary on Showtime.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Snapshot reviews

-Saw recently and turned out to be a very sweet movie from a potentially naughty premise: Lars and the Real Girl
-Take Before Sunset, add more sarcasm, remove most of the wistfulness, throw in some Woody-Allen-esque moments and you get something like: Two Days in Paris
-Earworm through most of my Sunday: "Underneath" from Alanis Morrissette's new album, Flavors of Entanglement
-Strange moment from the Tonys broadcast: Stephen Sondheim's wry, I'm-not-dead-yet acceptance speech of the lifetime achievement award as read by a grizzly-bearded Mandy Patinkin.
-Currently reading and glad I broke down and bought the hardcover: Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories by Tobias Wolff, the author whom David Sedaris once said keeps him going.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pavlov's opera fan

I happened upon the final scene of a Met performance of La Boheme on public TV. For a moment, I hesitated. Should I watch? Should I flip? Would seeing the end without experiencing the full piece ruin it for me? I couldn't resist. That scene in the garret is so powerful. I watched. And lo and behold, my reaction was the same as it usually is: waterworks. That's great art.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Monday, June 09, 2008

Memories of Chi-town

The amazing honey custard French toast with chamomile creme anglaise, candied lemon and apple blossoms at Lula Cafe in the Logan Square section of Chicago. Touring Hyde Park, including Obama's house and the faux gothic U. of C. campus. Catching up with old college friends over soul food. Happening upon a random party. Finally seeing Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte in person - and American Gothic, too. Potbelly sandwiches and Vienna Beef hot dogs. The skyline from Museum Campus. The view from the John Hancock Tower. Dripping scoops of ice cream on a warm summer evening in "downtown" Clarendon Hills.