Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hate Poem

And I told you yesterday was bad! I spent most of today sitting on the phone with tech support for ages trying to clean my virus-laden computer. I am so, so glad I have a Mac at home. Anyway, in honor of crappy days everywhere, I give you the following poem, which doesn't have much to do with crappy days but still seems appropriate.

HATE POEM
by Julie Sheehan

I hate you. Truly I do.
Everything about me hates everything about you.
The flick of my wrist hates you.
The way I hold my pencil hates you.
The sound made by my tiniest bones were they trapped in the jaws of a moray
..............eel hates you.
Each corpuscle singing in its capillary hates you.

Look out! Fore! I hate you.

The little blue-green speck of sock lint I'm trying to dig from under my third
..............toenail, left foot, hates you.

The history of this keychain hates you.
My sigh in the background as you pick out the cashews hates you.
The goldfish of my genius hates you.
My aorta hates you. Also my ancestors.

A closed window is both a closed window and an obvious symbol of how I
..............hate you.

My voice curt as a hairshirt: hate.
My hesitation when you invite me to drive: hate.
My pleasant "good morning": hate.
You know how when I'm sleepy I nuzzle my head under your arm? Hate.
The whites of my target eyes articulate hate. My wit practices it.
My breasts relaxing in their holster from morning till night hate you.
Layers of hate, a parfait.
Hours after our last row, brandishing the sharp glee of hate,
I dissect you cell by cell, so that I may hate each one individually and at leisure.
My lungs, duplicitous twins, expand with the utter validity of my hate, which
..............can never have enough of you,
Breathlessly, like two idealists in a broken submarine.


from Pleiades

Irving Penn

On Saturday I met my grandmother at the Morgan Library & Museum to see the Irving Penn exhibit, Close Encounters. The purpose of the exhibit is to show off their recent acquisition of a number of Penn's portraits of artists and writers.

The aesthetic is definitely minimalist. Nearly all of the portraits on display were shot in the studio and with little in the way of props of background. In some of the oldest portraits on display he uses a rug, draped in various ways, as the only prop. In later portraits he used movable walls to make a corner in his studio, photographing his subjects in the confined space. In these portraits there is a relationship between the subject and a specific, created environment. The character of the subject is displayed in their interaction with the artificial setting. And with multiple subjects in the same setting, fascinating differences emerge. Truman Capote, slouching in his corner and almost shrinking into his big coat projects an entirely different air than Tanaquil LeClerc, who stands over Balanchine et alia, looking out at the camera rather more forcefully than any of the men at her feet do.

In the later portraits on display Penn removes even the limited information provided by things like the corner and the carpet. We no longer see even the full body of the subject. Instead we get heads separated from any information we might get from body or setting. It's a method that emphasized the importance of small details and shines a rather unforgiving light on the frailties of human flesh. Pores and wrinkles and all the other imperfections are distinctly visible. In his portrait of Picasso the eye is drawn to the vertical wrinkles on his cheek, the sagging of age as it is framed by the block of hat and coat, and to the alert eye looking out at you, socket distinct, bushy old man's eyebrow rounding over it. And then we have the portrait of Perelman--a rather sad and tired look for a humorist where one can't help but notice the tie that's askew and the drooping, soft skin of his eyelids.

The thing that always interests me about portraits like these is that they give the impression of being ultra-realistic, and yet how often do we really look at people in this way? At least for me, the answer is, "not very." I remember studying my great-grandmother in the way I look at these portraits, sitting at her dining table watching her page through the scrabble dictionary and just trying to memorize the texture of her skin and slope of her soldiers under her cashmere cardigan. Penn's portraits force that level of observation on us and it's not natural--if it were we'd just spend all our time staring at people--but it is interesting. Observing someone so closely, and in such a seemingly simple setting, one feels like they know something about the subject, as though one is seeing them as they really are, stripped of artifice. But that's an illusion, of course. The view we're getting is mediated by the camera, the photographer, the subject him or herself. Photography is uniquely suited to creating this sort of mirage of unadulterated honesty and it seems to me that Penn's later portraits embody that.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Forbidden Planet

My day at work was Crappy--yes, so much so that it deserves capitalization--and thoroughly frustrating, so when I got home instead of doing the multitudinous things that need doing around the apartment I sat around in the living room eating Americone Dream and watching Forbidden Planet with Wendy. Part of my '50s sci fi education (next up is Them!). Today sucked. But Forbidden Planet is pretty awesome.


On a total side note, the highlight of my crappy day--setting aside deliciously bad special effects--was watching Obama's S. Carolina speech. Either that man's quite the writer or his speechwriter deserves a very nice raise. Or both.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

People are Weird and Balanchine's World

So I like to think of myself as a fairly easygoing audience member. If I can see and hear I'm happy. I'm generally fine with kids, whisperers, candy unwrappers, etc. But the guy sitting in front of me Thursday night was truly something else. Not content to lean forward all the time and whisper, he and his wife/girlfriend engaged in quite the PDA. At one point Wendy looked at me and said, "OK, so that was totally inappropriate right?" And when I said, "Oh, yes. That was totally inappropriate," she said, "Just checking to make sure my boundaries aren't totally out a whack." Now call me crazy but I really feel that one shouldn't have to question one's boundaries when observing the audience at a ballet. It's not a fun distraction. I swear, the most unpleasant audience members I encounter are invariably at ballets. What's with that?

But onto pleasanter things. I've only seen a couple ballets by Balanchine before: Nutcracker, of course, and Ballo della Regina at City Center earlier this year. So I was excited to see what seemed like it would be a pretty neat cross-section of his work.

Tombeau de Couperin was the first and also possibly the first ballet I've seen that doesn't involve a lead of any kind or any solos. I found it almost soothing in its logic and symmetry. There are only little moments and shapes that I remember, shifts in the geometry of the dance, but I found the experience of watching it pleasant even though I don't have much to say about it. It's one that I would like to see again because it seems to me that it's tiny small actions that make it tick and I think that requires multiple viewings.

There's a sharp contrast between that and Tarantella, which is sheer bravura and fun. I've seen Ashley Bouder and Gonzalo Garcia dance once before, in Christopher Wheeldon's witty Dance of the Hours, but this was even more enjoyable. Both dancers seem to be having such a good time that it's impossible for the audience not to have a good time as well. Bouder in particular seems to just explode with energy and delight. The ballet itself, which essentially seems a showpiece for individual dancers, forms a nice contrast to both the group dancing of Tombeau and the seriousness of the following ballets.

I can't say I liked Bugaku as much as the others. The costumes are quite pretty and I find the adoption of aspects of Japanese dance interesting. But at the same time, I didn't enjoy the music and there was something uninteresting about it. The reason for that wasn't the choreography but the dancing. Albert Evans performance felt particularly flat and somehow uninvested with any emotion. It just seemed like he was dancing the steps as they were meant to be danced but not providing us with any kind of interpretation. It was bland. I enjoyed Kowroski more because I did feel like she was dancing in such a way as created a character.

The choreography on the other hand does interest me, although I didn't consistently enjoy it. I found the blend of Japanese movements with classical ballet fascinating but, perhaps because of the wigs and makeup to also carry a distinct whiff or Orientalism. The fact that he chose to make a ballet with distinct Japanese influences erotic in nature certainly supports that view and makes watching the ballet uncomfortable in moments. At the same time there were poses and movements that were truly beautiful; I'm certainly not saying that the ballet is bad because of this Orientalism but I do wonder that it doesn't seem to be mentioned as such. Hopefully that's just a result of my limited reading on the subject.

The final ballet of the night was my favorite. I knew a bit more about La Sonnambula coming in than I did about the others because it was one of the ballets I read about in the Henning Kronstam biography I read. In that, Tomalonis wrote:
It is a Romantic and dramatic, rather than bravura, role. Balanchine's Poet, an innocent, the artist who is apart from the world, comes to a very worldly party. He is at first seduced by the Host's mistress, who is the personification of earthly love, but when left alone he sees a lovely, mysterious Sleepwalker, the wife of the Host, whom he instantly recognizes as the other half of his soul.
There's also a bit of an interview with Kronstam on the ballet here.

I'm not convinced that Nikolaj Hubbe's interpretation of the Poet is quite the same as the one Tomalonis and Kronstam describe. When Hubbe enters the party he seems an outsider, but one with a touch of danger as opposed to innocence. It momentarily seems that the other people at the party are uncomfortable around him just as he is uncomfortable around them. As he spends time with the Coquette, first talking on the bench as others dance and then dancing with her himself, he is drawn slowly into the world of the other partygoers. He is enjoying himself and having fun with the Coquette. But then, as they file out of the ballroom though, the Baron takes the Coquette's arm and the Poet is left alone, reasserting his position as an outsider. It is then that he sees the Sleepwalker and everything changes.

The encounter with the Sleepwalker is an awakening for the Poet. She pulls him fully out the world of the party and into a more otherworldly realm. The dancing here is so lovely and unusual, as the Poet becomes more and more desperate in his attempts to wake the Sleepwalker. Hubbe was wonderful in his portrayal and had a sort of beautiful dignity to his dancing even in the more desperate moments. He conveyed a sense of wonder at this beautiful apparition made flesh and it was clear that seeing her had changed his world (ridiculous though it sounds when I put it that way). Darci Kistler's dancing as the Sleepwalker was quiet but eloquent.

The time at the party is less interesting than the pas de deux with the Sleepwalker and at first I wasn't quite sure how they worked together, but thinking about it more I realize that the ballroom scene it's absolutely essential. Without contrast the dance with the Sleepwalker is lovely but not nearly as interesting on a psychological level. The scene in the ballroom is ever-so-slightly wrong--not quite a party through a funhouse mirror but off-kilter nonetheless. It's not where the Poet belongs. Then, just as his status as an outsider is affirmed, he sees the Sleepwalker and feels a spiritual connection with her. She rescues him from this world in which he will never be comfortable and in doing so awakens him into the world to which he does belong as an artist. He needs to be with her, to reach her, because of this connection they have. If we haven't first seen the mundane world of the party the Poet's desperation, the depth of his need for her, doesn't make sense. So it all builds too this beautiful connection to the Sleepwalker and the artistic awakening that brings. Quite marvelous, I thought.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Diving Into the Wreck

The first time I read this poem was in a college course. My rather excellent teacher told us that he was so excited for us because we were fortunate enough to be reading it for the first time. He was right to be excited for us and I think also the first teacher I had who really recognized, or rather, expressed a recognition of, that thrill of reading something brilliant for the first time.

DIVING INTO THE WRECK
by Adrienne Rich

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Happy Days

I read a couple good reviews of the production of Happy Days and I loved the production of Medea with Fiona Shaw and directed by Deborah Warner that was in New York a few years ago, so I figured I'd brave Beckett to see it (I'm totally intimidated by Beckett plays, you see).

I'm glad I decided to go, because it was wonderfully done. Much has been made of the set, which looks like the rubble of a bombed out city. It's a landscape in which it doesn't seem possible for life to survive. And you have to wonder, while watching, if the life there really is worth living. That question doesn't seem to be at the forefront for the determinedly cheerful Winnie. There's not much to do and her husband is barely a presence, yet she has developed a routine to stave off the tedium of her situation and maintains an absurd cheerfulness. There are moments when the difficulty of the situation becomes overwhelming, but these moments are quickly brushed aside.
Ah well, natural laws, natural laws, I suppose it's like everything else, it all depends on the creature you happen to be. All I can say is for my part is that for me they are not what they were when I was young and . . . foolish and . . . (faltering, head down) . . . beautiful . . . possibly . . . lovely . . . in a way . . . to look at. (Pause. Head up) Forgive me, Willie, sorrow keeps breaking in. (Normal voice.) Ah well what a joy in any case to know you are there, as usual, and perhaps awake, and perhaps taking all this in, some of all this, what a happy day for me . . . it will have been. (Pause.) So far.
Winnie's talking is a way to fill emptiness, to ward off the sorrow. It's only effective up to a point. The illusion can be maintained when Willie is present and visible to Winnie. But when deprived of human contact it collapses.

Shaw is a fantastic, at times manic, presence and carries a play that I imagine must depend almost entirely on its actress for success beautifully. For that alone, the play is worth seeing. But there are also brilliant lines and poignant moments and on the whole, I found it rather fascinating. I still find Beckett . . . forbidding, I guess. I'm not quite sure how to think of him. But I'd go to see more.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Absentee Blogging

Things have been busy around here in a decidedly non-fun way this week. Work is a bit crazy--not so much hectic as frustrating--while I've had some family stuff going on as well. And today I had oodles of fun trying unsuccessfully to deal with the local board of elections. I also spent my free time this week watching the entire first season of Brothers and Sisters (next up, Friday Night Lights). The result of this is that I don't actually have much of anything interesting to blog about.

So instead you're getting my itty-bitty and definitely late New Year's Resolutions. I don't actually like the holiday and I don't normally make resolutions, but I've been having one of those months when I feel like my life could use a little organization. And here they are:
  • I will read no more than three books at once. I know it's not unusual to read a bunch of books at once, but I feel like it's interfering with my enjoyment of the books. Right now I'm in the process of reading:
    • Memoirs of an Anti-Semite
    • Empire Falls
    • The Evening Land
    • The Book of Daniel
    • I, Claudius
    • The Towers of Trebizond
    • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
    • Homo Faber
    • An ARC for a book my company is publishing in the spring
  • I will get rid of the books I will never, ever read and only took in the first place because they were free.
  • I will brush the cat at least once a week. It's easy and he loves it so there's no excuse not to do it.
  • I will pack a lunch more frequently than I buy one. Because I could really use the money.
  • I will clean the bathroom on a regular basis (I totally think this counts as a big resolution).
And really I think that's quite enough, no?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Challah

Sorry for the crappy quality of this picture--I've misplace my camera so it was taken on a cellphone. I just somehow feel like I'm being a bad blogger if I don't include images.

Anyway, last time my sister visited, I stole the recipe for this particular challah off her iPod. I'd never had it before but she said it was good and that her boyfriend's mother loved it when she made it for her. So now that I have a new oven, which makes baking bread much more feasible, I figured I'd try it out.

I went to a Jewish summer camp for a couple years when I was a teenager and on Fridays we'd always have to do these preparing-for-Shabbat chores. One of these was braiding the Challah for baking--which I didn't do all that well on the pictured loaf but was much more successful at on the mostly eaten loaf--but I'd never actually made the dough. I was very relieved then, to find that it wasn't at all difficult.

The thing that always throws me off when I make bread--which is admittedly rare--is getting the right liquid to flour ratio. But this recipe only uses 1/4 cup of water so it's fairly hard to mess up. I ran out of regular flour so I mixed in some whole wheat flour and it came out just fine. Today I picked up some chicken soup from Little Veselka to go with it.

And if nothing else, challah always looks delicious.

The Pond

Last year when I went ice skating we went to Central Park, which I'd never done before and always seemed like one of those things one should do, although like everything else in this world, it's nothing like the movies. This year we decided to go up to the Pond at Bryant Park because it's closer and easier to get to although not as picturesque. As it turns out it was also cheaper, and had a better behaved crowd which was nice of course.

Pros:
  • Skating outside is one of the good things in life.
  • The weather was beautiful.
  • We got there early enough that it wasn't too too crowded at the beginning.

Cons:
  • The rental skates were super uncomfortable and so dull they skidded across the ice. I had my own skates when I was a kid because we lived three minutes from a community center that was an ice rink at the time (no longer) and it was soooo much better.
  • The hot chocolate they sell there is beyond bad.
So overall, a nice day. :)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Martial

For reasons unbeknownst to me, we here at Your Paper Boats have been getting a lot of traffic this month. And by a lot I mean more than 10 visitors a day. And it only took us a year and a couple months to reach this point. Surely this must be one of the fastest growing blogs on the world wide web! We're so proud of ourself that we feel the need to use the royal "we."


Seriously though, I am getting more visitors then I normally do (which doesn't take much) and I haven't been posting all that regularly, and my posts have included silly pet pictures, so I'm not sure what people are actually reading here. But in an effort to entertain whoever is stopping or stumbling by, here are some epigrams by Martial (taken from Norton's World Poetry anthology). Because there's nothing like an insulting poem to give your day that extra zing.


YOU ARE A STOOL PIDGEON
trans. Kenneth Rexroth
You are a stool pidgeon and,
A slanderer, a pimp and
A cheat, a pederast and
A troublemaker. I can't
Understand, Vacerra, why
You don't have more money.


SURROUNDED BY EUNUCHS
trans. William Matthews
Surrounded by eunuchs and limp as a tissue,
Alma blames hi Pollia for bearing no issue.


AGRICULTURE
trans. Fred Chappell
You've planted seven wealthy husbands
........While the bodies were still warm.
You own, Chloe, what I'd call
........A profit-making farm.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Sweeney Todd

I've never seen the musical of Sweeney Todd but I like Sondheim so I was looking forward to the Tim Burton directed movie version. Anyway, I thought it was a good and entertaining night at the movies, although the movie falls well short of greatness. I don't have all that much to say, and it's not that I didn't like the movie, because I did, but the theater version is funnier right? Or something-er? Because the movie is pretty unrelentingly dark. And while I admire Burton's ability to create an aesthetically consistent world, I'm not sure what making an entirely dark musical about an entirely dark subject and then filming it in an entirely dark way does for the viewer. A bit more black humor would have gone a long way and I can only assume that the actual musical had said humor. And maybe a portrayal of Todd that was a bit more nuanced? I would have liked that too.

Family Pets

One of my favorite parts of going to visit my parents is getting to see the pets. The senior member of the menagerie is our crotchety, half-feral cat, Topaz.

She's had a rough year, largely due to this interloper.
Darth is pretty much a big teddy bear, at least with humans, and probably one of the few cats on the planet who could put up with my brother.

The real fun of seeing the pets though, is the family dog, Honey. She edging up on 10 years old and her health is not so good. She's always had health problems so this really isn't a surprise, but we worry over her. You really couldn't ask for a better, or friendlier dog.

And in case you're wondering, the picture directly above is totally the reason for this inane post.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Ice Bowl

As usual I'm a bad blogger writing way after everyone posts their Ice Bowl blogs and without much of anything insightful to say. The sentiments I'm about to express have already been stated eloquently in posts on BfloBlog and The Willful Caboose, as well as numerous other Sabres blogs. But hey, it's the most exciting event I've been to in ages--probably ever--so I have to try, right?

My outdoor game saga began when I left our tickets in New York upon flying to Buffalo. Needing my roommate to FedEx the tickets--after confiscating our ballet tickets for safekeeping--wasn't the most auspicious start, but fortunately they arrived smoothly and it was uphill from there.

I'm the daughter of a hyper-organized man who truly took his years in the Boy Scouts to heart, so to avoid haranguing, I laid at enough clothing the night before to go exploring in the Arctic.

And in the morning we went off, first to a tailgate party and then to the stadium itself. They had a nice little area set up outside the stadium where there were these large blow-ups, an ice sculpture, a [product placement] green screen, and a stage where a band was playing.
We got in and to our seats a bit before the anthems. Or in the case of this game, O Canada followed by God Bless America. Which I'm not against per se, although I can deal without the God stuff. But it's singable which makes it nice for the crowd.

And then the game began. Not well, but it began. And it continued through stoppages of play and bad weather. I'm not sure how well it came off on TV--I assume the ice-fixing stoppages were less than captivating--but being there it didn't really matter.

I know there will be many better crowd videos than mine, and I didn't capture a particularly interesting or exciting moment, but the following video will give you an idea of what the crowd looked and sounded like at a sort of average moment of the game (and no, that's definitely not my voice you hear):

video

At the end of the day, it didn't much matter that the Sabres lost or that the actual hockey was less than spectacular due to the conditions. It was a unforgettable experience in an incredible atmosphere and I feel so, so fortunate to have been at Ralph Wilson with my parents and to have taken part in the event.
Before the game began the woman sitting next to my family said to someone sitting a few seats away, "Where would you want to be other than here? NOWHERE!" In the spectacularly long game recap comments thread over at IPB, Gambler of Desperation Hockey quoted Marv Levy saying, "Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?" And I think that's a feeling that was shared by most of the 71,000+ in attendance yesterday afternoon. We were lucky to be there, watching this wonderful sport outdoors on a snowy winter day, with thousands of people from our community who felt just the same as we did. Yesterday, I was happy to be a Sabres fan and happy to be a hockey fan. But above all that, I was so very proud to have grown up in Buffalo. It was a fantastic way to start the new year.