Saturday, December 31, 2011
I can only speak of knowing Shanti for a small group of clustered (and very intense, formative) years in the early to mid 1980s, years that I believe launched us Plaza Rats into our true selves. His blonde mohawk and Ank necklace would appear on the Plaza every day after school, and everyone would light up. Despite the fact that we were all committing daily, crazy shenanigans together, I always felt safe when he was around. He gave the best hugs; this I remember after 25 years, and let me tell you, I'm sure I needed each and every one of them.
The image that I have seared into my mind that I can contribute to what will surely be a long littany of first and last impressions, is of Shanti strolling down one of the paths that lead to the center monument of the Plaza. There he is, adorned with his exterior palette of teen angst, with one exception; he also exudes a protective light, and his loyalty knows no bounds. If we're scaling the walls of the post office after school, we'll be safe because he's with us. If we're climbing through the tunnels of Heaven and Hell after school, we'll be safe, because Shanti's with us. If I'm sneaking into the Lensic up the fire escape, I'm safe because he's around somewhere; he always was. If Catherine and I are getting picked up from Crapshaw Junior High by older kids, and Shanti's among them, we're safe because he's there. Thinking back, I think he had a gift for soaking up the burden of others' insecurities with a kind of precious and unconditional love. He listened, and he was a wise counselor. The cast of characters that surrounded us in that time have left the long lasting memories of a beautiful and struggling lot.
Today is New Year's Day, and I took my son hiking down the Appalachian Trail at the Delaware Water Gap. The scene reminded me intensely of growing up in Santa Fe and taking drives up the mountain to hike at Big and and Little Tesuque. As Jamie and I scaled jagged, mossy rocks, appreciating the sounds of the rushing water and the sun shining, I thought of Shanti. I kept imagining him in his youth, because that's all I knew. He was beautiful and smiling, and his arms were outstretched in the way that I remember them. May you find peace, my old friend, and may your family find comfort in those in-between spaces that loved ones leave behind when they leave too soon.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
For Tamar, first thing's first: boil a pot of water and make it salty. Once you get that going you'll figure out what goes into it. Second: Purchase and roast loads of in-season vegetables at the top of your week. Save all cut stems, onion peels, cores, leafy tops, and other produce castings. Save the water from the vegetables and pasta you boil, and use it as a base for soups. Pickle onion peels and beets and toss them on top of frittatas, another great template for re-imagining the cycles of cooking that build on one another. I cook in a pretty judicious way anyhow, and am fairly creative with leftovers, but keeping cooked rice on hand for no other reason to know that someone will, at some point, be hungry, seems quite clever, if not like obvious common sense. Old rice makes the best fried rice, and fried rice is perfect for those odds and ends, and while you're at it, take the old rice/ polenta/ pasta, and make a curry at weeks' end out of the mish-mash. Make these things the center of your meal, and get creative about salads, which of course are not always made from "astronaut bags of lettuce." I hate making salad, so therefore I don't eat enough of it. However, tonight I grabbed an apple, two little pears, and a sad, spare stalk of celery. I chopped up everything and tossed it with cracked pepper, rosemary vinegar, and good olive oil. To brighten it, I squeezed on it lemon juice and tossed in a handful of chopped parsley. I think Adler would approve of this; even more for saving the vinaigrette which fell to the bottom of the bowl, which will spruce up rice at some point in the next day or so.
So it looks like one of my copies will be hanging back with me. I might replace it with two more to give away before the week is out.
Friday, December 16, 2011
|Toward the Southern Tip of Manhattan|
I have been to the top, but not for close to twenty years, if my sketchy memory serves me correctly. The ear-popping trip up the elevator didn't take long at all, and once we were outside, the views were staggering. Visibility was excellent, and we could see up the Hudson to the Palisades, down the island to our block, East 4th Street, which was marked by the relatively new Cooper Square Hotel. We saw every bridge crossing the East River, and the Intrepid perched upon the Hudson. The Hearst Tower was easy to spot with its diagrid triangular facade, and Central Park served up fall's fading colors in a wash of earth tones. The Flatiron Building stood confidently with its narrow facade, where Broadway and 5th Avenue part ways. The archaic-looking wooden water towers speckled the rooftops, daring one to figure out which decade we're in.
Jamie was thrilled that he could poke his hand through the fence and hang it off the building. He spotted things that we hadn't: the Macy's windows we had just walked past; tour buses with people's heads popping out; tiny bicycles. He was so excited that vocalizations brimmed over, sheer joy pouring out of him.
The best part about it, aside from the obvious part of spending the afternoon with my guys on top of the Empire State Building, was looking down on this perfect city, all of its daily imperfections wiped away by a swath of broad sight lines. It's everyone's city to carve out a life as they wish, whether by luck or hard work or simple circumstance, and it can change on a dime from moment to moment, as fast as the clouds' shadows pour across Central Park before trolling up the Hudson. It's a dear old friend that I cling to, and every once it awhile it deserves a proper visit.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
|Young Brando Avec Moi|
My class had been to one other exhibit this semester at ICP, the Harper's Bazaar show, and found it lackluster at best. So this was a bang-up change from that. In fact, everything lousy about that show that my student Julia complained about on the Parsons blog was the polar opposite here. The work was arranged subject by subject, which made it easy to follow and absorb. The curatorial design was stunning, and incorporated Beaton's own designs; the Beaton-inspired wallpaper alone garnered a collective swoon upon entering the passageway that leads to the show. There were costumes on display from his opera years (La Traviata!), and fashion illustrations with swatches of fabric adhered to them, which two of my cooing students noticed and loved.
Beaton was interested in fame, and apparently donned a phony and exaggerated Hollywood accent. It's no surprise that he was longtime pals with Truman Capote, who he began to resent when In Cold Blood propelled Capote's fame far out of orbit from his own. It's also no surprise that he found himself in the company of Andy Warhol shooting his factory scene. If I close my eyes, I can pluck Beaton from one of his self-portraits and hear him say "Can-dy, Dahhlling."
This museum is such a quiet treasure in our city. If you go, be sure to check out another room or two. I paused for a long time at the Stettheimer dollhouse, which includes, among other treasures, a miniature wall hanging from the sisters' friend Marcel Duchamp. I've only been to MCNY a handful of times in my years in New York, and rather than mourn the shows I've missed I make a promise to myself to check in more frequently.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
There are words and phrases that I find myself uttering to myself in French when I'm walking down the street. I love the sounds of these words, no matter the meaning. A satisfying "maintenant"[mant-en-o] only means "now", but when I'm walking down the streets of New York in the rain, looking up at the half-obscured-by-fog Empire State Building, carrying a big orange umbrella, saying "maintenant"gives me a staccato walking rhythm that carves the perfect path home. So does the act of conjugating my elementary verbs: Je vais, tu vas, il va, elle va [for some reason, a deep pause here before continuing with] nous allons, vous allez, ils vont, elles vont. I like thinking about which mono-syllabic sound goes with which form of the verb. Add to that the verbs etre, faire, and avoir, and you have the crux of my final exam coming up. Actually, that's just a fraction of my final coming up, but c'est la vie. Phrases like "j'adore Professeur Samuel" are coupled with "je suis tres fatigue apres mon cours de Francais." I'm still totally screwed up with my articles [de + le = du, but not always; past participle of etre is eu, etc. etc.], but to me it doesn't matter so much, because to be able to utter "apres mon cours" --after my course-- is a lovely thing. "Boite de nuit" means nightclub, and its literal translation is "box of night." How pretty is that? Box of night.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Sometimes it seems like an entire lifetime has passed between my first awareness of HIV and today. Today I woke up and remembered that it's December 1, and a flood of memories came crashing down on me, most strongly what my first introduction to what AIDS was. A history teacher at my little high school in Santa Fe had gotten very sick. He was short and adorable with a ring of grey hair, and soft spoken. He wore tweed. During a school assembly he was led by the arm down the middle aisle to the front of the auditorium, where he gave his illness a name. I'm sure that most of us hadn't heard of AIDS then; I certainly had not. Shortly afterward, a friend's father perished from pneumonia-related causes.
When I first moved to Chelsea in January, 1993, it was still possible to identify the walking sick and dying population. Those who were inflicted often wore a ghostly pallor and were rail thin. My apartment was three blocks from ground zero of the AIDS crisis, of course St. Vincent's Hospital, and this was a daily vision of sadness. It was nearly impossible to walk past the little white building on West 12th Street, with the circular windows, and not imagine the horror and sadness unfolding inside. When did the cocktail kick in that began to protect them?
Last Thursday night, Community Board 2 passed a near-unanimous resolution to create the first official AIDS Memorial Park at the sight of the current St. Vincent's Triangle Park, right on Greenwich and 7th Avenue. I can think of a no more appropriate place to meditate and remember what the neighborhood used to look like, and who used to populate it-- New York alone lost 100,000 people. This is a day to raise awareness about the ongoing AIDS crisis, but today my thoughts are hanging on to those who are missed dearly from our streets.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
I was so lucky that growing up I was taught to be frugal, use what we had, and not pine (too much) for that which we didn't have. We struggled financially, but we never went hungry, and most of all, we were loved "to the moon and back." I'm so grateful for that, because from that consistent heartbeat of my childhood I know I have the tools and resources to pass those values along to my own child.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
It feels good to showcase an indie bookstore company, Just the Right Book, right before the official Holiday Shopping season begins. Oh wait, it began before Halloween this year, didn't it?
Monday, November 14, 2011
This weekend, we had a spontaneous opportunity to join old friends at the Carsten Höller: Experience exhibit at the New Museum, just a short walk from our apartment. On the surface, it seemed like something that kids would love: an interactive show with a giant slide, carousels, fish tanks and strobe lights. Visitors may enter a giant slide on the 4th floor of the building, zoom down two stories, and exit from the 2nd floor where they will be dumped into a room filled with strobe lights and fluorescent sculpture animals lurking around the floor. A blue chimp here; a pink alligator there. My friend Mary opted to cuddle for a moment with the blue chimp... I opted to stick my head into a head-shaped glass bubble inside of a fish tank, as did Jamie, which I began to regret when he started throwing up the next morning. All those people sticking their heads in there, gack...
This is how the New Museum summarizes the show: "Taken as a whole, Höller’s work is an invitation to re-imagine the way in which we move through the world and the relationships we build as he asks us to reconsider what we think we know about ourselves."
This is how I summarize the "Experience" show: The New Museum gets a big Fail for not managing crowds in more efficient way. If you head over on the weekend, be prepared to stand in three lines that are each no less than a half hour: line to get in; line for wristbands which you must be wearing to get in the lines for the carousel and the slide. And you must wear them, or you'll be asked to get off of the carousel at the midway point, as Jamie was because his mom didn't know she needed to stand in line for a wristband after paying the entrance fee. Really? Kick a kid off of a very slow moving carousel when he had like 4 seconds left to go? Fail! Three hour wait for the slide? Really? What's the hold up, you ask? Grownups being coached on wearing helmets and sliding down slides.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Today I was treated to a third grade field trip. Mr. Mattson, 19 kids, and 8 parents walked the 8 blocks to the Spring Street Firehouse Museum. The museum was chock full of cool stuff that threw me into the depths of New York City history in a far stronger way than I imagined it would while crossing 7th Avenue South with so many squirming kids. Turns out, the treasures were indisputable: painstakingly preserved hand-painted helmets from the 1800s; embroidered belts used for fancy dress during parades; original buckets used in the first "bucket brigades"; stovetop hats for helmets? Really?
The Firemen that run the museum were walking history books and knew how to tap into the kids' collective mentality without blinking an eye. The class sat for a video about fire safety (um, I will be doing a fire drill and checking the batteries in my fire alarms, which everyone should be changing twice a year, "when you change your clocks", according to Mr. Eddie, retired Fire Lt.? Colonel? Captain?). Then they got to go inside of a fake apartment where they identified all kinds of unsafe things, including space heaters near billowy curtains and irons plugged in near bathtubs. From there, they got to make their way through a real fake fire made from a heavy fog that had somehow been emitted into the atmosphere! They dropped to their knees and crawled along the perimeter of the room until they found their way to the exit. Once out, they stayed at their designated "meeting place", which we should all also determine in our own personal fire plans.
The history of urban life can be seen in the progression of the fire trucks themselves. We moved from the first Bucket Brigades to hand pumps drawn by horses; moved from steam controlled pumps to, finally, trucks with engines. There was even a gorgeous carriage stamped with "Steinway" that Mr. Steinway himself had commissioned to protect his early workers in his Queens piano factory.
The charmer of the day was the stuffed dog "Chief" who was taken into a firehouse and wormed his way first into the hearts of the firemen, then onto the trucks, and finally, into the fires themselves where he rescued animals and people alike. A real canine hero (shown above). In the same room was a painting of three firefighters who lost their lives in a rudimentary house fire on Watt Street in 1994. A woman had carelessly let a bag of groceries fall onto her stove. The man in the middle was Mr. Mattson's High School football coach, and it being a Catholic School, he paused to say a Hail Mary with the children for his lost mentor.
This was just a precursor to further tragedy: the 9/11 room honored the 343 firemen who lost their lives on that day, in a 102-minute period, a fact I hadn't known so specifically before. The photography of that day surrounded an arched memorial, which featured faces of all of the fallen. Most moving of all was the uniform of Father Judge, which hung behind glass, still covered in soot. From the fire safety education to the history to the remembrance of lost heroes, this field trip packed a wallop of an impact.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
I'm blogging less because I'm sitting in a French class for four hours a week. Literally. Both classes are held entirely in French, and I'm getting to the point where I can understand most of what Professeur Samuel is saying (j'adore Professeur Samuel); responding to him without freezing first is another story altogether. I lose my confidence when I have to conjure the correct articles and verbs. Verb endings aren't that horrible right now; it's confusing etre (to be) and avoir (to have) constantly because the French use them differently than we do.
I can see that my hurdles of speaking are largely around the thinking process-- I try to translate English into French, word for word, as I speak, and it just doesn't work that way. The article usages are completely different. You aren't cold; you have cold. You aren't tired; you have tired. Or something like that.
The other problem is that I need to hit the books more. I feel like the time I've given over to learning French has been a generous four hours a week, but that's not enough. I need to compound it. The best I felt in class was when I had class on a Tuesday, came home, watched a film in French with English subtitles, and went back to class on Thursday. That was slightly more immersion.
The scope of the idiomatic underbelly of the language is extremely daunting. I remember thinking I'd never crack the surface when my friend Jenn explained to me that I was a little chicken, and that was a term of affection that women called one another. Ma petite poulet? Or is it mon? Because the masculine and feminine are a whole other wrench thrown in. I'm hoping that this part of it becomes second nature after I take the clues that the language can give to me; certain endings are always masculine, certain endings are always feminine, and there are exceptions for every rule.
I guess we're mired in our own abundance of idioms. I consider this as it's raining cats and dogs outside of my window. Or as Jim snores like a train in the other room. Or Jamie tries to read his book until the cows come home when it's time to hit the sack. I'm climbing a huge mountain, but shall persevere.
Monday, October 17, 2011
On Thursday me and my Word City Studio collaborator Kathleen Sweeney went to check out an exhibit at the Pace Gallery in Chelsea about social media. This is how the gallery summarized their show, which closed on Saturday: "An exhibition investigating the ways in which contemporary artists approach public platforms of communication and social networks through an aesthetic and conceptual lens and examining the cumulative effects of social media on our daily lives."
To be fair, it's accurate that it was an investigation of how artists are incorporating social networking into their lives. The possibilities are as endless as the infinite Twitter feed, and most effective to me was a collection of thermal printers hung from the wall with a constant stream of twitter feeds that were in their wholeness a study of how emotion moves through the electronic ether (the paper mess of it is shown above). Overall, the artists communed on the theme of pulling together collections of words/ collections of images/ collections of Google Searches to illustrate greater happenings of our collective consciousness. A wall of sunset images from Flickr (?); a study of the emotional peaks and valleys of emotional expression across the span of a lifetime (20 somethings tweet about connectivity and isolation, while people over 50 tend to feel blessed about their worldly and unworldly accumulations).
I left the exhibit feeling empty. It seemed to me that everything was so parceled out, broken down and abstract that I couldn't reach in and pull out anything human and real. Makes me want to ditch social media for awhile and call a real person on the telephone where our concerns can't be captured and tampered with and manipulated beyond, "Wow, it's just really great to see you."
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
It's an honor to have had my essay "Robot Moms in the Closet", which was published in the eAnthology Welcome to My World, reviewed by a fellow blogger, Antje Rauwerda. Antje also contributed an essay, and blogs over at Momosyllabic.blogspot.com. My desire to clone myself over and over again in order to tend to any task, person, or role in life, resonated with her. If there could be an Army of Rachels, why not an Army of Antjes?
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
Sunday, September 11, 2011
I'd left my apartment on East 4th Street, only to see my neighbor, Maritza (now gone; I miss her and the lovebirds that hung from her fire escape, and the way she'd say about Jamie, "He's gonna be a football playah"). She told me a plane had hit; a small gathering of people stood on the corner of East 4th Street and Bowery looking up at the billowing black smoke. I went back home to tell Jim so he'd come and look with me. It was unbelievable was that some guy, probably an amateur pilot, had crashed into the building. We gawked. Then I walked to the subway and went to work. The day, as is described by everyone recollecting it, was the most beautiful clear crisp day. The sky was so blue.
Friday, September 9, 2011
This post is about my wedding anniversary, which is today. My next post may be about that other anniversary that everyone is thinking about this weekend, though I'm not sure if I'm going to put that day into words.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Tonight Jim and Jamie and I were sitting at Nho Trang, our favorite Vietnamese joint on Baxter Street, when a little girl and her family walked into the restaurant. Said little girl promptly approached a gumball machine at the cashier's bar and cranked the dispenser, taking the candy that it deposited into her hand over to the table where the rest of her family had been seated.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Have you read A Visit From the Goon Squad? I just did, in roughly three sittings, the last one soaking up the second half of the book. Jennifer Egan is new to me, despite the fact that this looks to be her fifth book. Goon Squad is the winner of untold prizes, including the Pulitzer. Having finished it twenty minutes ago, I'm still processing why I loved this book so. I hate to do that Film Treatment thing where you smash together two authors to give people an idea of what something is supposed to be like, "Poltergeist 2 is basically like Cape Fear meets The Night of the Hunter." This book could have been the baby of Mary Gaitskill and Italo Calvino. Hard to imagine, but rings true to me.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Ms. Irene brought with her a hard-core cleansing of seasons. Leaves ripped off of trees, many losing their birthright foliage. Along with her other random spoils: a crushed child, and other loss of life; ripped off rooftops; countless flooded homes and crushed bridges; toppled trees, millions without power and many of them friends, humming into the void of their Facebook pages for small comfort at 5:45 a.m. while children still sleep, oblivious, their computer batteries on the wane. My family got off lucky in New York, we got off lucky in Lake Kinderhook, and we got off lucky in Philadelphia.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Sounds like a bad joke: What do you get when you put together the vicar, the farmer, and the other hot guy with good prospects that haven't panned out yet? I don't know the punchline, but Miss Fancy Day, the heroine of Thomas Hardy's "Under the Greenwood Tree" (mellow-compared-with-Tess-and-Saint Jude) might be able to answer that question. Whoever produced the BBC adaptation of his most subtle book needs to get slapped upside the head with a handful of, oh, a batch of dewey heather or something.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
When I attended Wood Gormley Elementary School in Santa Fe in the late 1970s and early 1980s, every year (or was it bi-annually?), people who ran the R.I.F. (Reading is Fundamental) van would show up to our school library with a box of books nearly four feet wide and as tall as myself (I was the second tallest girl in the class; Martha Cooke was the first tallest). To come to school and find out it was R.I.F. Day... Wow. To reach into the box and pull out a shiny paperback was an event that would have the school yard buzzing at recess.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
One place I can't shake from my post-Paris brain is the "Musee de la Vie Romantique", or "The Museum of the Romantic Life", a tiny museum in an old mansion down the street from Pigalle. The museum is the converted home of the accomplished French portrait artist Ary Scheffer, who frequently played host to George Sand and her sickly boyfriend Chopin. Ergot, the heavy and seemingly unbalanced focus on the feisty Ms. George Sand herself (a brilliant watercolor landscape artist in her own right).
Walk into the front parlor and you're greeted by jewelry cases full of historic bibs and bobs. It's like shaking out your glamorous Great Grandmother's junk drawer from the end of the nineteenth century, to find costume jewelry, snippets of hair (how Gothic, no?) and old faces decaying and gazing from lockets. The fading faces always get me. There are these long-gone souls staring out at you from a tarnished locket, whose lives I'm not familiar with, but still it's as if they could leap out and ask for directions. If they were alive, I might buy them a cup of tea at the adjoining Salon de The.
I love how the museum is barely visible from the street, and how you have to approach it by walking through a little cobblestone driveway. I also love how the permanent exhibit is free, so I felt able to go and stare at the mold made from Chopin's hand a few times over during different visits (to the left of his hand you can see a curled piece of George Sand's hair in a see-through locket). His hands were small and delicate and quite beautiful, and with his Nocturnes playing on a loop in the background, I could almost imagine holding onto it for a few minutes.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
I have this big birthday coming up next Spring, and in the happy wake of it I've been reflecting on how lucky I am to be inhabited by a free spirit. I love driving around aimlessly while blaring Pete Doherty albums.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
I woke up at 3 a.m., because my body thinks it's 10 a.m. When I went to the bathroom, I thought I'd flush by pressing the silver push button thing on the top of the toilette, but in my sleepy state didn't find it where I'd grown used to it. When we landed in New York last night, we'd been awake for nearly 24 hours. Jamie was a trooper like I'd never seen, until the very end when he was furious that I'd left a water bottle on the plane and there was no fountain to be found-- or kiosk to purchase a new one--anywhere within a mile of Customs at J.F.K. Where were the Evian vending machines that dotted the platforms of every Metro stop in Paris? Or the 100+ green "Wallace" fountains that rise up from the landscape of Paris parks, medial strips, and sidewalks, that were donated by the English philanthropist Richard Wallace back in 1870-something because so many Parisians were dying of nasty water-borne diseases like Cholera?
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Take away cable, television, Netflix, and video games, and at first what I had on my hands was a cranky and complaining little beggar in withdrawal, much to my chagrin. I'd like to think I don't lean heavily on electronic conveniences to pacify my kid while I get stuff done or take a moment to myself (or an hour, or an hour and a half). Alas, not the case. This wasn't an act in parental piety, but rather the reality of what it meant to land in a Parisian's apartment filled with not much more than 20 bookshelves filled with Marx en Francais. There have been a few exceptions, for example watching soccer in Arabic on Al Jazeera and a matinee- priced 3-D showing of Pirates of the Caribbean on the "MacDoe"-filled Champs Elysees.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
I'm humbled and touched by the comments my last essay on the New York Times' Motherlode blog received from last week about Jamie mainstreaming. Only one person felt that they had to teach me that I wasn't a "special needs mom" and that Jamie wasn't a "special needs child." That's all well and good, but the truth is-- or should I say, my truth is-- adapting to this label and assimilating into that culture to meet my son's needs as a first time parent many years ago was overwhelmingly an identity-changing phase in my life. I like to think that it will forever offer me a sense of understanding into the particulars of every child's challenges, whether deemed "typical" or "special."
Thursday, June 23, 2011
I don't care that there are near-strangers in my home for six weeks, because we're in theirs. I know what it means, because we're also rummaging through drawers looking for things, stumbling upon the surprising and sudden ant infestation in our new jar of honey, downloading a washing machine manual in English so I can figure out how to keep it from banging too loudly. Oops, there's not a stove after all.