Wednesday, February 28, 2007

DANCE OFF! at the IFC Center

I worked late this evening and then hauled myself off to the IFC Center--where I have never been--to see the 7:40 Academy Award nominated short films (live action). Eleven dollars a ticket and you walk up a flight of stairs to theater 2. The seats are magenta and there was a diaphanous curtain over the small screen. Atmosphere? In a room with magenta seats? Ok.

I go places on my own all the time and kind of enjoy it, but I can't seem to shake a weird sort of paranoia about it. As though it's somehow socially unacceptable that I should want to go to the movies alone. So I was a bit relieved to notice several other people there alone. I always bring things to do because I don't like sitting around, so I came armed with The New Yorker and my latest subway book--Alice Munro's Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage--in case the film started late. It started fairly close to on time though, and with it, the always enjoyable previews. There's something a little disturbing about loving what are essentially advertisements, but it's always an exciting bit of the movies for me. They had four main previews:
-Private Fears in Public Places-Looked pretty much like every other arthouse film ever made.
-Killer of Sheep-Rerelease I think? Interesting in an I'm-never-going-to-see-that sort of way.
-The Exterminating Angels-So very obviously a man's film. Not necessarily a bad thing. I'm just saying.
-One I can't remember.

So we finally get to the films after some other crap and I have to ask--is there some mandatory level of quirkiness required of a short film? Is it a test they have to pass? "Wait! Before we show your film you need to make sure that your characters are odd enough to make an impression!" And if they have a twist at the end--utterly predictable or otherwise--all the better. All twists will be given away below.

First up we've got The Savior, an Australian bit about a Mormon in that go-door-to-door-harrassing-people stage of his religious life. He falls in love with a woman and does things with her that will surely make him rot in hell. This is offscreen which is fortunate because nothing is making that double chin look good. Short story shorter he knocks her up and her nice but apparently very stupid husband figures that, because the doctors have told him he's impotent, it must be a miracle. Because this makes more sense than him realizing she's shtupping someone else. Our friend the ugly Mormon tells the dumb husband that the Bible contains miracles just like that. Perhaps more people should be converted like that.

Next up for our viewing pleasure is a bit from Denmark called Helmer & Son about an old man in an nursing home type place who has locked himself in an armoir and the son who has to try to get him out. Aside from the forced quirkiness--the dude seems far too with it mentally and physically to even be in a nursing home much less hiding in armoires--I actually liked this one. Turns out he's refusing to come out because he's nekkid and is in there with an equally nekkid old lady. A bit scandalous for the cranky nurses, no? The family dynamic between father and son, brother and sister, uncle and neice, was fairly interesting.

Then we move to Eramos Pocos and, wouldn't you know it, more quirk. In this one we are treated to a man who's wife leaves him and their grown son. Being completely and totally incapable of taking care of themselves, they decide the obvious solution is to go get Grandma--his mother-in-law--out of her nursing home to come take care of them. Except they get the wrong lady. Apparently they haven't seen Grandma in a while. She's rather nicer than the mother-in-law ever was though and she cooks them lots of yummy food, so when he learns of the deception he decides to just go with it. That nursing home must have really sucked for this lady to be so happy living with them because frankly, what a couple of slobs. They are in serious trouble when she kicks the bucket. And also, what the hell? At this point I am beginning to seriously wonder if characters in short films are allowed to have brains. Because the cognitive abilities on display thus far? They have not been impressive.

At this point for better or worse, we veer away from quirky. As it turns out, however, the roadsigns weren't leading us to good. They were leading us to National Geographic Special as done by Hallmark. In Binta and the Great Idea we learn that while there are some things that Europeans do better, when it comes to caring for the community, using imagination, and being happy, the folks in Africa are kicking our sorry asses. The great idea is that Binta's father would like to adopt a white baby and teach them all about what living in their village--represented as fairly idyllic--is like. Apparently the film was shot in an area where there's a fair bit of guerilla activity, but that has no place in this fairy-tale world where guns aren't around and everyone lives in peace and relative harmony. It's also narrated by a disgustingly cute child, and I simply don't do well with movies centered around cute children. I made it about twenty minutes into Cinema Paradiso and that was a lot better than this. There are two things that partially redeem this piece of sap in my mind: 1) it meant well 2) it's very pretty. That's about it though. For the most part I just found it simplistic and cloying.

And finally, we have West Bank Story, which thankfully won the Oscar. This one benefits from being neither Hallmark-y nor carefully quirky. Instead it goes sailing right past quirky into the realm or utterly ridiculous. Honestly when you have a Hasidic Jew singing about other people being religious nuts, you know you've hit the silly jackpot. I mean this in a nice way. It's just that it must take real religious fervor to go through life with a hairstyle that awful. There's also bad yet competitive dancing, silly hats, camels, explosions, and a fiddler on the roof. They even get in a Jews-in-the-construction-business gag. Jews and Muslims unite when they realize that the customer must be fed even when your fastfood restaurant has burned down. After all, nothing can get in the way of the almighty dollar. None of the other shorts had anything quite so serious to say, and yet they all took themselves more seriously than this one. Could the Academy nominate more stuff like this and less stuff that makes me want to leave the theater?. That would be nice, thx. After all I did pay eleven dollars; I should get something impressive, or at least entertaining, for that.

The walk home from the IFC Center was nice.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Birthday Party

Today was my grandmother's 80th birthday party and, despite drama about cakes, storms, and family politics, it went off well. My grandmother seemed pleased though as she had no idea all her children would be in town. And the cake was very pretty even though I'm not a fan of buttercream frosting. Looks nice, but tastes too much like eating a stick of butter.

We went to an Italian restaurant near my grandparent's apartment called Portofino where they've been going for twenty-some-odd years. My aunt might have provided the cake, but they provided the balloon:

Just as we were arriving there was a birthday party going on for a rather elderly looking woman. We think perhaps they recycled the balloon.

It's a pretty typical, nice yet not super-expensive Italian restaurant. The decor is unobtrusive without looking as though they just had no idea what to do. Some pictures from the restaurant:

Beyond the restaurant we pretty much just sat around the apartment, which was nice in it's way. It's changed quite a bit since I was little but it's still homier than my other grandparents' apartments. No one follows you around with coasters as if you're out to ruin their furniture so that's always a plus. It was a good afternoon all told.

In keeping with the flower theme, my grandmother's birthday flowers:

Friday, February 23, 2007

Julie & Julia

My mother is going to be in town this weekend for my grandmother's 80th birthday so I get to do the whole family thing. Something I've been doing a bit of lately. I ate at Mars 2112 with my uncle and aunt and littlest cousins last week. Cute kids but my goodness what a rip off that place is. It's basically a step above MacDonalds and yet fairly expensive. I probably would have liked the whole trip to Mars when I was little though.

A somewhat better dining experience this week was a rather brightly colored cajun and southern food place called Mara's Homemade which is somewhat oddly located on 6th street with all the Indian food places. I had chicken in cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes that weren't really mashed and it was good, yet not spectacular. One of those places that you enjoy well enough but don't recommend or take people to when they visit. Although southern cooking isn't particularly my thing so that could be influencing me here. The service was very good and the owners are friendly and accomodating which makes it a nice time though. The service is slow as all the food is cooked after you order, but they warn you about it ahead of time which is rather more than most restaurants do. After eating at Mars, it was nice to go to a little family-run place.

The reason I've been thinking particularly about food is that I've been reading Julie & Julia. It's a book I picked up for free from work. And it's funny because I'd read reviews, but I'd never really been interested in reading it. Largely because I don't cook. Honestly, if it requires anything more complicated than boiling water, I'm probably not going to be making it for dinner.I bake from time to time, but that's about it. I'm not even interested in cooking as something other people do. I don't watch cooking shows or know the names of celebrity chefs or anything like that. My relationship with food generally consists of being handed it--fully prepared--and then sitting down and eating it. And I enjoy that relationship a great deal.

So reading a book about cooking food that sounds fairly gross to me, having grown up not using a pound of butter in each meal, didn't seem like it would really be my thing. And to be honest, it's really not. I can't say I'm really interested in Powell's eggs poached if red wine sauce and whatnot. But I wanted to read something light and it is that. Also, it does have a fabulous cover. The color scheme is feminine and inviting, the font modern and easy to read. Best of all though, is the little egg beater and dish. They manage to get the topic of the book across while also letting the reader know that the tone is going to be a bit quirky and fun. Not your grandma's book about cooking or whatever.

Monday, February 19, 2007


One of my babies just had a $700 vet appointment. We're still waiting on blood tests but it would seem that he has asthma and nothing more worrisome. Well, except for the FIV and mild heart murmur but we've known about those for a long time. Actually, one piece of very good news that came out of this is that he hasn't caught Feline Leukemia from our other cat. Seeing as she grooms him compulsively in addition to sharing the food dishes, water dish, and litter box, I think this is probably a pretty good sign that she's not going to infect him (knock on wood). We're just going to chalk this entire visit up as one of those you're-lucky-you're-so-damn-cute moments.

He was very good about his X-rays though and didn't need to be sedated. I'm proud of him. Particularly because that saved about $75. And while I can manage this, I'm going to be bargain-hunting and sticking to free events for a bit, I think. The vets love him because he's basically a big, terrified teddy bear. My roommate is working toward becoming a vet herself and got the vet to show us what they looked for on the X-rays and how they determined that he had asthma and not pneumonia or anything like that. Quite interesting. Also, asthma was pretty much the best-case scenario because anything else could have indicated that his immune system wasn't functioning properly. So it was a good, if expensive, day.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Misconceptions and Misrepresentations

It's funny the coincidences that come up. When I was at the Tiffany exhibit on Friday I saw some Native American artifacts that Tiffany--quite the collector apparently--had kept in his home. Two of these things were of Tlingit and Kwakiutl origin. Two tribes I had never heard of prior to reading Passage to Juneau. And it's the book's focus on Native Americans of the Northwest coast that I want to talk about just briefly.

As in most public collections of Indian culture up and down the coast, one's trip began with a little printed lesson informing the visitor that the First Nations practiced "a philosophy based on respect for nature and concern for the environment." Indians--in the new mythology--were the original designers of the eco-friendly life, the first passionate recyclers.

Yet this sort of statement could be made only because the systematic extermination of Indian languages, customs, and beliefs, carried out by zealous Christian ministers and government agents, had been so shockingly successful that no present-day Indian could possibly know what his great-great-great-grandparents had really believed. So it was now easy to attribute to the ancestors almost any belief that was thought desirable for them to have possessed. Most popular books about the Northwest Indians claimed that they had been monotheists, believers in the Great Spirit, a kissing-cousin to God the Father and Jehovah. There is no serious evidence for this--though the early missionaries certainly peddled the Great Spirit notion in an attempt to bridge white-Christian and Indian concepts. Likewise, the "respect for nature and concern for the environment" line is hardly confirmed by the oral literature and surviving art of the Indians. That little or no trace remains of a belief in the supremacy of man over the natural world (the stories tend to suggest the reverse), that no Indian text parallels Genesis I:26 ("And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth") doesn't--and shouldn't--suggest that the Northwest tribes were protoecologists, dedicated to the postmodern cause of environmental conservation.

Like John Muir Indians and Fenimore Cooper Indians, these museum Indians were unreal in their milk-and-water nobility. Their art and stories were so full of complex life, so shot-through with grim humor, so of-their-own-kind, that it was insulting to the Indians to cast them, in their current starring role, as people who apologized to Salmon before killing them, who hugged trees before turning them into war canoes, like good children of the 1990s, following Mother Nature's rule book.

--Jonathan Raban, Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings

It was the aspect of the book represented above that most interested (benefitted?) me. Not that I'm jumping to believe him unquestioningly. I would have to actually do research of my own to form a real opinion. But it does make me realize how simplistic my previous understanding was. I've never been particularly interested in Native American history. But I am interested in historiography, so the ways in which we've interpreted Native American history and society and the reasons behind those interpretations does interest me. The idea that people have been able to turn Native American culture into a blank slate of sorts onto which we can project our own desired history is fascinating.

So, I wonder what Tiffany was projecting on the Tlingit and Kwakiutl (among other tribes) when he collected the things that had belonged to them and displayed them in his giant mansion.

A Sea and Its Endless Damn Meanings

Quite some time ago (last spring maybe) I made the mistake of going to the Strand sidewalk store where, for $9.99, you could fill an entire bag with books. And not like a little plastic grocery bag either. A real shopping bag. So being a sucker for the idea of cheap books, of course I had to go "get my money's worth." It was a sidewalk sale though so the selection was, shall we say, eclectic. And I'm nothing if not impulsive when it comes to buying books so I end up picking up things like 1950s surveys of French architecture (yellowed pages, loose binding) and 1940s histories of the St. Lawrence (pages crumbling as often seems to be the case with those WWII-era books). Mind, I have no particular interest in either French architecture or the St. Lawrence. The French architecture book has a fun little note though, written in pencil on the title : "Cairo City Hotel $1 per nght. Athens. Comfortable. !! 2 hr. walk from Acropolis." Fun because I think it indicates my book has been to Athens. In different handwriting, also on the title page, it says, "Kelly Edey June 28, 1957 Wells." I love owning books that have their own story. It's like a double identity where the book tells a story but also has one.

Anyway, these book sales also bring out my bad habit of judging a book by its cover. We all do it. Or mostly do it. That's why publishing companies spend so much time on them. But I still tend to feel like I should know better. Passage to Juneau ended up in my bag because of it's cover. I don't even particularly like the cover design. I think the layout and text make it a bit static and boring and are not particularly evocative of the subject. But I love the photo used, taken by a man with the vaguely colorful seeming name of Macduff Everton.

So I have this book, and about 6 months ago I began reading it. I always have a book that I keep in my purse and read on the subway and this one got the nod. I failed to account for (or realize) the fact that it was fairly dense reading and perhaps not best suited for 8:30 AM commutes. So half the time I just didn't read at all. But I couldn't replace it as my subway book because I knew if I tried reading it at home, where I could do other things instead, I would never finish it. And I did want to finish it because I knew nothing about Vancouver (the person, not the city) or the Northwest Indian tribes. And in places it was really quite interesting and forced me to alter the way I had been thinking about things. Which is what you want in a book like this. But oh was it a slog. As of 10:00 PM today, I am finished and I think my next subway book will be much lighter reading. More on this book later, I think.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Metropolitan Museum of Art

I trekked off to the Met today to meet Kir. Dressed, as seems to be the norm lately, in clothes that were not warm enough. I always feel incredibly cheap for only giving a dollar or two for admission, but today we went and got gouged by the Met cafeteria so that pretty much removed any feelings of guilt. I mean honestly. How much should you pay for an apple and a bag of chips? Then again, this is a place that charges $100 for some of their lectures/classes. I know because I read the information today. I thought, hey, some of that stuff might be interesting. And then I realized that I would only be able to afford said stuff in an alternate world where people in entry-level positions make loads of money.

We went to the Asian art section and for all the times I've been to the Met I don't think I'd ever been in that part of the museum. It was really quite interesting (and empty) and at some point I'll have to go back and look more extensively. And from there it was to the Tiffany exhibit which was really lovely. My mother is going to be in town while it's up and I think I'll have to take her to it. There was this beautifull vase which had a waterlily design at the top and green stems going to the bottom. I'm not sure you would actually put flowers in it and use it as a functional piece but it was lovely.

The piece on the right is Winter, from his Four Seasons window. You can't tell from the picture, but the glass is really quite thick in certain places. Layered, maybe? I couldn't tell and don't know anything about his techniques. It was fascinating because I had realized his windows had some texture to them, but I hadn't realized how much. The information next to the display noted that the window was displayed at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. I always love a Buffalo connection.

We also went to the Costume Institute to see the collection of a deceased socialite who owned enough to clothe a small nation. There was beautiful clothing there and it was nice to be there with Kir because she can explain everything to me. I consider it an accomplishment if I can sew a button back onto my coat so, unsurprisingly, I don't know anything about things like darts and pleats. Hell, I don't even know how to pronounce anything.

At the same time, the idea of one person having so much clothing makes me a bit uncomfortable. Does anyone really need 600 pieces by Yves Saint Laurent? And yes, that was a rhetorical question. I was telling my roommate about it this evening. She had just finished readinga book (Infections and Inequalities) about people who were going home to die because they couldn't pay the four dollars it would take to be admitted to the hospital. I'm not so much making a judgement here so much as saying that there's a pretty stark contrast between the two and it made me somewhat uncomfortable. I'm sure the book was valuable but I'm certainly glad I didn't have to read it. Just knowing about it is making me feel like maybe I shouldn't go buy a new pair of jeans tomorrow like I intended. Of course I will, but I might feel guilty about it.

On a lighter, clothing related note, I saw something else that made me wonder today. While waiting for the bathroom before leaving I saw a girl walk out in a shimmery tight top that I swear she was going to fall right out of. There was a lot there and I was halfway convinced I was witnessing a wardrobe malfunction in the making. Now I'm all for people dressing in whatever way they're comfortable. They can wear as much or as little as they want and I just don't care. But I don't understand why one would choose to go to an art museum--a somewhat stuffy one at that--dressed as though one were going to a club. It doesn't bother me but it does confuse me.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


So I don't really do Valentine's Day. Beyond not having a valentine it's just not the kind of holiday I've ever liked. That being the kind that is completely and utterly commercial. It's all about what you get and what you give and if you get and if you give. Which isn't to say that I particularly dislike Valentine's Day either. I can think of very few holidays I am equally indifferent to. Nevertheless, the holiday is upon us and I feel that I should post something somewhat relevant. So. This is one of my absolute favorite romantic passages in literature:

The revolution which one instant had made in Anne, was almost beyond expression. The letter, with a direction hardly legible, to "Miss A. E. --," was evidently the one which he had been folding so hastily. While supposed to be writing only to Captain Benwick, he had been also addressing her! On the contents of that letter depended all which this world could do for her. Anything was possible, anything might be defied rather than suspense. Mrs Musgrove had little arrangements of her own at her own table; to their protection she must trust, and sinking into the chair which he had occupied, succeeding to the very spot where he had leaned and written, her eyes devoured the following words:

"I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.

"I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening or never."

Such a letter was not to be soon recovered from.

--Jane Austen, Persuasion

Friday, February 09, 2007

Pazz & Jop

I seem to remember really enjoying reading the Village Voice's Pazz & Job poll at some point not terribly long ago. It was one of those things I didn't know about until I moved to New York and I suppose that made it something worth taking notice of for me. So I was excited to see this year's.

Until I actually read it. At which point I got the distinct impression that is was every bit as worthless as any other list. Sure, I was momentarily comforted by the fact that I recognized the vast majority of the artists on the list. Well, I thought, I can't be that out of it if I know who all these bands are. Sure, maybe I didn't hear Hips Don't Lie but I'm not completely lacking in current musical knowlege. Hell, I even own some of those CDs.

Except, here's the thing. Of those that I own,I've only listen to two of them regularly (Regina Spektor, Tom Waits) and one of them intermittently (Cat Power).The others I listened to, thought Oh, this is nice. I really like it, and then forgot existed. And my guess is that I'd pretty much feel the same about most of the list.

The Voice doesn't even tell you anything about them, so why would you care or be interested in looking further? Am I just supposed to look at the list and decide that, because it's on the Pazz & Jop list I simply must check it out? Because I really don't think that way. I'm not even sure if the Voice wants you to think that way. I mean, sure, it's certainly possible. I don't even think it would be outside it's regular attitude if that were the case. One of the reasons I don't read the voice regularly is that I think they're rather more invested in a specific editorial outlook than they are in any kind of real thought. So the final question becomes: why did I even bother to read this thing?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

On the Stupidity Scale

If I were to rank my daily stupidity on a scale of 1 to 10, today would be at least an 8 or thereabouts. You know how some days you just start out stupid and keep it going right on through? This was one of those days.

My first mistake was deciding I didn't need socks or stockings today. Not like it was well below freezing or anything. I was only moderately cold on the 4 block walk to the subway. And then I go to my building through a tunnel and stay in the building all day. So if I'd been going straight home from work I'd have been in good shape. Until my cats tried to murder me in my sleep for failing to buy them wet food.

So, off I go to PETCO at Union Square after work. And the fun really begins. First I miss the subway stop. So I switch to the uptown train ride one stop and then walk two blocks to PETCO. At this point I was kind of regretting the whole no socks thing, but not a big deal. It was after PETCO that I made my big mistake. You see, what with the awful cold, I figured, hey, I'll take the bus. There are two M14s, one that goes across town and down Ave A and one that goes across town and down Ave D. I can probably count the number of times I've taken the bus on my fingers, despite living in the city for 5 years. So perhaps it isn't surprising that I took the wrong bus.

I realized I was on the wrong bus soon enough, but figured I'd stay on it and maybe it would loop back around to where I needed to be. Then, deciding that seemed likely to take awhile, I decided that I might as well just walk home. At this point I was on FDR drive which is not all that near my home, and I was quite cold so I figured I'd cut through the apartment complex near me. All by myself. In the dark. With not a person in sight. Because this is what smart people who know how to stay safe in a city do. It was simultaneously a relief to come out onto Rivington and an annoyance to realize how damn far I was from my apartment. It would have been shorter for me to just walk home from Union Square in the first place.

I did make it home, obviously. Although not without thoughts like, I wonder if this will turn out to be the stupidest thing I've ever done, would it be ironic if I were assaulted on Attorney Street and had to actually hire myself an attorney, and well this incredible pain in my feet is actually a good thing because it means my toes aren't about to fall off. On the bright side the cats were glad to have the wet food...or at least willing to eat the wet food. It's pretty much one and the same when it comes to cats, no? It's days like today that I miss having a car.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Auden reading from 1972.

The NYT audio collection doesn't seem to get updated, but what is there is very cool. Nabokov reading his prose and poetry, F. Scott Fitzgerald reading Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams...

There's actually a lot of poetry recordings online if various places and I think it's quite cool.