Saturday, December 31, 2011

Shanti Ananda

This morning I looked for the faded scar between two fingers on my left hand, and was troubled to not be able to see it. If I pull the skin on the back of my hand tautly, I can at least imagine that it's still there, barely, a centimeter of white to remind me of being 12 or 13, a Plaza Rat hanging around daily on the Plaza in Santa Fe. Shanti Ananda, a sweet boy who I looked up to in an indescribable way when I was between 12 and 16 years old, passed away on December 31st after a sudden brain aneurysm, I learned through old friends on Facebook. That afternoon so many years ago, we'd played a game called bloody knuckles. We each held our hands out, while the other tried to swipe their opponent's hand with a metal comb, right in between their knuckles. I was on the losing end of that particular battle.

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

An Everlasting Meal

There's one book that's stood out to me in reviews this month, and after reading an excerpt I purchased a few copies to hand out to various extended family members who I still exchange with: An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace, by Tamar Adler, is a sort of cookbook, but more a collection of beautifully crafted essays harkening back to her biggest inspiration How to Cook a Wolf by M.K. Fisher, a book that explored rethinking  the meaning of food bounty during times of rationing.

I've only made my way through the first half of the book (hanging off every word), but I can already tell that this will be one of those books I keep nearby and reach for often, just as I do Simplicity From A Monastery Kitchen (which I realize I borrowed from my mom something like 7 years ago)... I have grown to adore this monk who writes about lovage the way others write about love.

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

On Top of the Empire State

For years, I've found reasons why it's not a good time to take Jamie on top of the Empire State Building. It's too crowded; too expensive; we might run into King Kong; who knows? But last weekend, the opportunity presented itself in a way where everything clicked. It was Friday and Jamie had the day off from school. The weather was warm, and we were two blocks away after catching a matinee of the Muppets. Out came the question I've heard so many times before: "Can we go to the Empire State Building? I was born here, and I've never even been on top of it." Jim and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and I said "Sure, why not?" The look of unbridled joy on my kid's face because he thought he was hearing things-- "She said Yes?" --was worth the hefty ticket price to the 86th floor.

Toward the Southern Tip of Manhattan
Before the ascent, we were greeted by various tour guys trying to sell us tickets for joint bus trips before we had a chance to hit the box office. No, thanks. We were invited to purchase a map so we could know what we were looking at. No, thanks. We know what we're looking at. In short lines I heard several languages, not surprising. We were officially tourists in our own town.

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

Cecil Beaton: The New York Years

Tuesday marked the last day of my Fall semester classes, and to change it up my fashion students and I went to see the "Cecil Beaton: The New York Years" show at the Museum of the City of New York. Beaton, a British born photographer and designer, was shooting portraits of Hollywood greats during its nacent 1920s and into the 60s (including the one of Ms. Monroe, above), many of them in his New York apartment. We see the Astaires yucking it up, a perfect young Marlon Brando, Hepburn in his "My Fair Lady" designs, among others.
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

French and Japanese Brain Scramble

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.

And then there's the Japanese coming up in the written portion of my blue belt test on Saturday, but that's just a series of body parts and movements. Shotei (palm); sutko (knife foot); shuto satkutsu uchi komi (knife hand strike to face); kensetsu geri (sp?, sideways joint kick to knee).

Next Friday marks the official end of my semester. Cinema et livre date avec moi, moi, et moi!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day

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.