Travels With Gloria

Finding beauty mile by mile.

Category: New York

I Sing First Avenue

Manhattan in a cup of coffee. Photo by Sara Clarke.

It’s no secret that I’m leaving New York in part because I’m a little bit over it.

I’ve been here for twelve years. I’ve done just about everything there is to do here. Drank in all the bars. Eaten all the food. Seen all the art. Over it. Done. My New York chapter is complete.

For the last few months, I’ve mostly been holing up in my neighborhood, writing, working, sleeping, having drinks with friends at local joints that might as well be in Idaho or New Hampshire. I knew I’d eventually miss New York, but not yet. Not for a long time, probably. I’m ready to be in love with a new city.

And then Sandy came to town.

A disaster like this is enough to make anybody rally to their hometown. So of course I felt the sense of shared dismay, the looking out for our own, the worry about the Gowanus Canal breaking its STD-contaminated banks and the destruction of brand new subway stations in Lower Manhattan. I was already a little bit back on Team Noo Yawk.

And then yesterday morning I accidentally walked to work.

I meant to walk through my neighborhood (which was largely unaffected by the storm) and over the Manhattan Bridge, and then catch a bus in Chinatown that would take me uptown to my office near Grand Central.

Walking over the bridge, it all started coming back. There’s a metal grate on the downhill slope of the bike lane that, when you fly over it, makes a loud GOOOOOOONG! sound. Alone in the dark, the noise is shocking. I’ve always thought of it as a “yawp”, as in Walt Whitman’s line from “Song of Myself”:

I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.

Remembering Walt Whitman was pretty much the end of my jaded attitude about New York City. I looked over the East River (a name I have tattooed on myself, for fuck’s sake) and into Manhattan. I could see the Statue Of Liberty far in the distance.  New York is the beginning of America. New York might not be the original city, but it’s my original city.

The East River. Photo by Sara Clarke.

When I got across the bridge, I walked through Chinatown, a neighborhood I’ve never had a lot of love for. But yesterday was different. I could have loved the South Bronx yesterday. I walked to the corner of Hester and Eldridge. Such a great corner. So full of elemental NewYorkness. It was around this point that I forgot about the bus idea — there were hundreds of people waiting at every stop.

I turned up Allen Street and kept walking.

My route to work took me past my whole history in New York City. I walked past my dad’s favorite Manhattan restaurant, the ridiculous Sammy’s Famous Roumanian Steakhouse. I walked past Bluestockings Book Store, the hub of leftist organizing activity in New York.

A Chat in Little India. Photo by Sara Clarke.

I walked past St. Mark’s Place, which has been a tourist sham version of Punk for most of the time I’ve lived here, but I don’t care. I’ve bought a million cheap “pashmina” scarves and a million falafels, taken a million “Pay What You Can” yoga classes and rented a million weirdo bootlegged alternate cuts of obscure foreign films from the movie kid mecca of Kim’s Video. Fuck the haters. St. Mark’s is the best.

On Ninth Street, I saw my favorite truck in all of New York. Yes, I have a favorite New York City truck. And it happened to be parked along my absurd walk to work.

This is my favorite truck. Photo by Sara Clarke.

I passed a restaurant where I once took a boyfriend on a nerve-wracking Meet The Parents dinner. I passed my college dorm on 25th street and a thousand landmarks from that time – this bar, that diner, the Associated Supermarket that we jokingly called ASS-GROSS-iated. It was mobbed with people fighting over the last jar of peanut butter.

For a little while I wanted to spend a day walking from Bowling Green at the foot of Manhattan all the way up Broadway to the old growth forest at Inwood Hill Park. I never did it. But I got my farewell tour, in the end. New York has ways of making you do things.

Six New York Museums And What They Are Good For

The Wilbour Plaque, from the Egyptian Collection at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Good For Actually Learning About Art:

The Brooklyn Museum

While other museums throw piles of art objects behind glass cases with cards that say things like, “Amphora, Corinth, 4th century BCE”, the Brooklyn Museum takes a more down to earth approach. The curators don’t assume that, by virtue of wandering into an art gallery, you must already know what you’re looking at. Instead they tell you what’s up in plain language, often answering questions you didn’t entirely know how to ask.

Venus and the Lute Player, by Titian. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

Good For Drowning In Beauty:

The Metropolitan Museum

It’s often difficult to know what, exactly, you’re looking at, and don’t even TRY to see the whole place in one day (or even one lifetime). But the thing about the Metropolitan Museum is that no matter how you approach it or what’s on display, you will always see something that leaves your jaw hanging somewhere around your knees. The collection is just so rich there’s no way to take a wrong turn down a boring hallway full of fusty old junk. The Met doesn’t have any of that.

The Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry. In the collection of the Cloisters.

Good For Time Travel:

A tie between The Cloisters and The Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

Maybe you came to New York because you want to see what being a “true New Yorker” is really like. Maybe you are a “true New Yorker”, and you just want to run away to medieval France for the afternoon. Manhattan can do that. And that. The Cloisters is an actual monastery, shipped here brick by brick from France by the Rockefellers, plopped down in a bucolic and period-accurate hilltop garden, and turned into a medieval art museum. The Tenement Museum is an actual tenement, restored to multiple layers of period-accuracy so that you can wander through on guided tours and see what life was like on the Lower East Side from the 1850’s through the 1970’s. They are two of my favorite places in the world.

Henry Clay Frick didn't have a Rembrandt. He had three motherfuckin' Rembrandts. Photo by Ozier Muhamad, via the New York Times.

Good For Pretending To Be New York Royalty:

The Frick Collection

After you’ve had your fill of the Lower East Side, come uptown and see how the rich capitalist fat cats lived. While the Frick Collection is a proper museum with a straight up ridiculous collection of important European art (Vermeers, y’all), a lot of the rooms have been left relatively untouched, with unobstructed views of Fifth Avenue and Central Park. Making it very easy to stroll amid the velvet couches and gilded clocks as if you, too, were to the manor born. But without all that oppressing the working classes.

Interior of the Guggenheim Museum, photo via shafe.co.uk.

Good For Digging Deeper And Rollerskates:

The Guggenheim

When the Guggenheim is good, it’s amazing. Since the spiral main space is usually treated as one long ramp of a gallery, the curators have become experts in presenting exhibitions that suck the viewer in. Even as a huge museum nerd, for the most part I go into a gallery, look at a few things that seem interesting, maybe read some of the supplementary materials if they’re not too obnoxious, and then zip off to the next thing. But the Guggenheim doesn’t work that way. I typically go in with only the vaguest notion of who the artist is or what the work is about, and I always come out not only a newly minted expert, but head over heels in love. You can blame this museum for almost all of my artistic obsessions. Even minimalism. If you don’t know a ton about art, but you wish you knew more, make a habit of seeing shows at the Guggenheim. Maybe if we all get together, we can convince them to let us bring our skateboards.

Wednesday Round Up.

Screenshot diptych from Pollock. Via Design*Sponge.

Design*Sponge did a Living In post on Pollock. I remember disliking this movie when I first saw it, but damn, it really gets the Abstract Expressionist aesthetic right. I think the main reason I wish I were an artist is the idea of having a ramshackle old studio-slash-house out somewhere nobody else wants to live. In the 50’s that was eastern Long Island. Which is funny because now the Hamptons is the land of spray-tan and appletinis, a place the least imaginative people in the world want to be. I think now you’d have to be in Detroit or a ghost town in the rust belt. Will those places be the hot vacation spots of 2062?

Image courtesy Huffington Post.

The Film On The Rocks Yao Noi Festival — curated by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tilda Swinton —  created a floating island cinema for screenings.

La Guardia Airport, 1961. Via Retronaut.

Just in time for the new season of Mad Men, Retronaut has a photo series on flying into La Guardia airport in 1961.

This picture of Clarissa Darling wearing a Keith Haring t-shirt brought to you by the fact that I can't get any good MTV Art Break video clips to embed properly. Image blatantly stolen from Flavorwire.

Remember how yesterday I mentioned that Keith Haring did stuff for MTV in the 80’s? Well it turns out MTV is bringing back the Art Break. Too bad nobody cool watches MTV anymore. Also, too bad I suck at embedding video. Click the link, I guess.

Painting Myself Into A Corner

Untitled, 1982. Sumi ink on paper. Image courtesy Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Keith Haring was an oddly ubiquitous part of my childhood. Oddly because, well, I grew up in a socially and culturally conservative small town where there is little appreciation for art of any kind, let alone the dingy grafitti-inspired oeuvre of a gay painter from the New York underground club scene.

And yet his work was everywhere in my childhood. Maybe it was his later status at the epicenter of the AIDS crisis, a supposedly gentler alternative to controversial artists like David Wojnarovicz and Robert Mapplethorpe. Or it could have had something to do with MTV’s commissions of their trademark astronaut as a Haring cartoon stick figure.

My memory of his work is so cuddly and bland that at first I wasn’t that interested in seeing the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition Keith Haring: 1878-1982. But I was surprised by the work. It’s more raw than the dogs and babies that made Haring famous, oddly violent and often centered on images of penises and men fucking. This is not the ubiquitous Keith Haring of my childhood.

There are two pieces in the show that not only changed my understanding of Haring’s work but, frankly, blew my mind.

Untitled, 1979. Acrylic and ink on paper. Image courtesy haring.com.

The first is a study in abstraction done in 1979 when Haring was at SVA. The swirling figures interlock like puzzle pieces, suggesting a pile of humanity. It’s a bridge between Bruegel and Pollock, a mass of dynamic energy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm (Number 30). 1950. Enamel on canvas. Image via metmuseum.org.

Pieter Bruegel The Elder, The Wedding Dance. Oil on panel. Image via Wikipedia.

The other piece stood out to me in a much less didactic way. It’s just… perfect. It’s the kind of painting you can’t describe in words. This is a masterpiece in a completely sincere way. It scratches the part of your brain that can find euphoria in a line or a shape. Unfortunately, I can’t find an image of it online. However, I did find a still of a video piece Haring made around the same time that features himself creating a painting that looks very much like the one I’m thinking of. So I’ll give you that, and then you have to go to the Brooklyn Museum to see the piece I’m talking about. Trust me, you’ll recognize it.

Still from Painting Myself Into A Corner video, 1979. Image courtesy Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Also brilliant, and a reason to check out the Haring show at the Brooklyn Museum even if you’re not a huge fan of his work: it’s one of the best curated shows I’ve ever seen. I especially love the choice to feature the music of 70’s and 80’s New York in some of the rooms. It’s rare that museums connect fine art with other artistic forms from the same period, and for Keith Haring, who exhibited work in nightclubs and made drawings on the subway, I thought it was a perfect choice.

UPDATE: Check out this tumblr with scans of Keith Haring’s journals. They start when he was thirteen years old!

The place the music was born

Phil and Ronnie Spector. I tried really hard to find out who took this photo.

As a blogger with a day job in the film industry, I try to adhere to one simple ground rule: never write about work.

This is usually pretty easy to remember because of the piles of nondisclosure forms I have to sign every time I start a new gig.

But this time is a little different. I’m not going to tell you the name of the project I’m working on right now, or even what kind of thing it is. But I have to tell you this.

Our office is in the Brill Building!

The Brill Building is an Art Deco cupcake in architectural form. Honestly, it’s cool just to be working in a funky old building with a gilded lobby, arched windows, and, oh, Jesus, the bathroom. The subway tile is etched with craquelure so you know it’s been there since before subway tile was cool. The sinks might be my favorite part: wide porcelain pedestals with two taps, one for hot water and one for cold. Our floor of the building is a warren of tiny offices – no bullpens or expansive loft-like Work Spaces here. I can imagine a young Don Draper, fresh from the Korean War, sitting in these offices looking at paste-ups for next Christmas’ fur coat ads circa 1953.

But I don’t have to imagine what sorts of people might have worked in my office once upon a time. I know the answer to that already. The Brill Building is probably the only office building in the world with a genre of music named after it. In the middle of the last century, it was the epicenter of the American commercial pop music industry. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was written in this building, as were probably half the songs performed by girl groups in the 60’s. Neil Diamond, Carole King, and Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” all happened here. Paul Simon maybe still has offices in the building? A lot of the spaces on our floor are suggestive of recording studios, with internal windows between rooms, soundproofing, and holes cut into the walls to facilitate running cable.

Anyway, that’s where I work. I can’t tell you what I do here, or what we’re working towards. But there’s a strong chance the ghost of Ellie Greenwich is reading this over my shoulder.

UPDATE: So, yesterday when I was researching this post (yes, sometimes I actually research stuff, shut up), I happened upon a music podcast called Sounds Ace, which recently did a special episode about the Brill Building sound. I didn’t get to listen to it until after I wrote my post, but omigod, it’s BRILLIANT. It’s exactly the playlist I’d have put together if I’d provided a musical component, minus maybe one cheesy Neil Diamond song. So if you just read this and got inspired to listen to some Shirelles, Shangri-Las, and Ronettes, you should go give Esther’s stuff a listen over at Sounds Ace.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Also I just discovered that Sounds Ace is made by Esther C. Werdiger, who also makes some of my most favorite comics, via The Hairpin. OMG can you feel the girl crush in the air? CAN YOU?????

I don’t want this to be happening.

Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg do not want. Photo blatantly stolen from Awesome People Hanging Out Together. Unfortunately I was not able to figure out who took the photograph.

There’s a trailer for the On The Road movie.

I… just. Look. I don’t want to be one of those jerks. I stayed up till three in the morning watching episodes of Game of Thrones, despite loving the Song of Ice and Fire novels. I even like some pretty high-falutin’ books adapted into movies, like The Motorcycle Diaries (oh, man, I’m going to have to do a post on that one day), True Grit, and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. And yet.

I feel like there’s an invisible line we all know is there, a creative equator, if you will. On The Road is on the other side of that equator. It’s sacred territory. You can’t do it justice in a movie.

Am I going to see it? Probably on opening night. I hope it’s every bit the abomination I say it’s going to be.

Three Things I Like Right Now

Design*Sponge visits The African Queen. I’m kind of dying to install a mosquito net over my bed. As a teenager I thought it would be incredibly romantic, and when I traveled to India it was everything I thought it would be and more. Not that dengue fever is romantic, of course.

Speaking about India, did you know there are psychic robots there now? What I want to know is, when are these coming to Queens?

Speaking of the borough I happen to be sitting in right now, this Das Racist video gives me hope for humanity:

Das Racist | EK Shaneesh from Stephen Boyle on Vimeo.

 

A Mash Note To Ms. Smith

The cover of Horses. Photo by Robert Mapplethorpe.

When I was nineteen years old I quit college and came to New York City. Despite despite being the most citified girl in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, I was country through and through.

I had spent most of my teenage years reading, watching, and listening to everything about bohemian life in New York: SoHo, the Village, the Lower East Side; Alphabet City, CBGB, the Beats. Upon arrival in New York I would spend hours wandering in the East Village, awed just to be walking on the same streets where Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed had walked. And so I discovered St. Mark’s Bookshop.

I couldn’t afford to buy anything there, and my slightly skewed moral compass wouldn’t let me steal because obviously these were good people fighting the good fight against the Barnes & Noble across Astor Place. What I got from St. Mark’s was cheap, but more powerful than anything I could shoplift up the block at the Starbucks-scented megamart.

On a column in the middle of the store, between Critical Theory and Theatre, there was a poster. A poster of the cover of Horses.

Despite my worship of all things Downtown, this was the first I was hearing about Patti Smith. They didn’t sell her albums at Walmart, and my dad’s record collection leaned more towards the British iteration of punk.

I went into St. Mark’s Bookshop on a brutal winter day, and saw this poster of the cover of this album I’d never heard, an image of this person I’d never seen. I didn’t know what to make of her, but I was sure that she knew secrets.

Then I came to the worst possible conclusion. I rationalized that, based on this mysterious image, I was not worthy of her music. This wasn’t for country girls in bellbottom jeans they’d lovingly hand-embroidered with dandelions, violets, and the names of bands nobody in the North ever heard of. I wasn’t cool enough for Patti Smith.

So I turned away from the poster, flipped halfheartedly through a Diane Arbus book on the front table, and left. I would never belong in New York.

I have never been so wrong.

When I finally heard her music, what I found was not what I expected. It’s true, Horses is challenging. “Birdland” still scares me a little. I don’t want the boy in “Land” to get shoved in that locker (or maybe raped? Seriously, “Land” is one of the most chilling songs this side of “Strange Fruit”). Every time I hear “Redondo Beach” I dread the narrator’s realization that her lover has commited suicide. But though Horses is difficult, even confrontational, it’s not cliquish in the way I expected it to be at nineteen. Or maybe no great music can be cliquish in the way I thought music could be then. Either way, Patti, I’m glad you let me in.

I like the challenging story-poems of Horses, and the petulant Rock Star posturing of songs like “25th Floor – High on Rebellion” and “Rock n Roll Babelogue”. I dislike “Rock n Roll N****r” for reasons that are mostly political and don’t realate to the time and place you wrote it. It was also difficult to hate when I saw it performed live, so I’ll give her that one. It’s kind of great she’s not pretending that didn’t happen.

What I like most, though, are the times Smith speaks to the lonely outsider who still lives in me. Case study: Wave. I had to stop the title track and sit with it a minute. It was as if she’d gone inside my brain, found the most awkward part of my soul, and wrote in her voice.

It’s a cliche, as a fan, to say that someone writes your soul. But this is not that glorious Ani di Franco way where it turns out that she knew exactly what it was like to be in love. This is a sad and socially inept deer-in-headlights kind of thing, where you knew exactly what it was like to make eye contact with greatness and find yourself lacking. It’s good to know I’m not alone in feeling that (someday I’ll tell you the story of how I once accidentally eye-fucked Steve Buscemi), but it was also a little like she might be mocking me.

I felt like I was back staring at that poster in St. Marks books. How dare I presume to feel that kind of connection with the cool kids’ table? How dare I presume that Queen Cool Kid would recogize anything if she deigned to look into my soul?

My suspicions were confirmed with “Frederick”. It’s an homage to that awkward moment where you like someone and all you can really say to them is “hey.” When you don’t know a lot about them, but you know their name sounds like heaven. Patti Smith sings “Frederick” like she’s reading the future in the name’s taste. Like she’s mentally signing “Mrs. Frederick Sonic Smith” with a bunch of hearts after it. Somehow, with the right person, “hey” is enough. Ani knows what it feels like to be in love, but Patti knows what it feels like to be really deep in bashful ridiculous Like. It sounds less noble but is much more complicated. She’s not afraid to be vulnerable, even silly. It turns out she can step off the cool kids’ table for a moment and live in the same speechless awkwardness I’ve called home most of my life.

Patti Smith did a reading at St. Marks books a couple weeks ago. She stood right in front of that column and read poems about her idols and inspirations and her baby sister. I’m still not sure if she’s Queen Cool Kid or striving and awkward and silent like me. But I was there, standing among my brown-haired New York literary clones — clones partially spawned by her — and in that moment I felt like I finally belonged. It was sort of terrible. A part of me wished for my old jeans with the embroidered New Orleans band names, just to stand out. But, still, for a moment I belonged.

So thank you, Patti, for inviting me here.

%d bloggers like this: