Wednesday was movie night at the 42nd Street Regal. As my crosstown bus dawdled along 42nd Street I gazed out the window at Madame Tussauds, Ripley’s, McDonald’s. Once again 42nd Street has won. It’s as tacky as ever. None of that Guiliani urban renewal nonsense has had the slightest effect. The movie was Foxcatcher. Steve Carell is perfect as John Dupont, a modern day Caligula, Channing Tatum is a graceful gorilla and Mark Ruffalo is heartbreakingly well balanced.
Thursday was prepare for the worse evening. N. Y. State’s Preparedness Program was presented at High School for Health Professions and Human Services (The old Stuyvesant High School). Some very cute and courteous National Guard gents in camouflage outfits (Thank you, Ma’am, Please take the left, ma’am.) handed us participants red movie tickets and told us we had to present them for the book bag full of survival goodies. They directed the masses to the auditorium where we had to endure third tier NYC politicians thanking us for showing up. I cheated by listening to Barry Manilow on my iPhone until I noticed street wise members of the crowd leaving. I snuck into the line out the door and escaped with the goodie bag.
A suggestion for a perfect NYC day: Go to the Matisse Cut Outs at MOMA, lunch on the fourth floor and see a movie. We saw Winter Carnival (1939) a terrible but delicious movie of 1939, deemed Hollywood’s greatest year but you wouldn’t know it from this flick. It starred Ann Sheridan frolicking in the snow at Dartmouth College, more lady-like than in Drive by Night, and Richard Carlson, her love interest, who later played in All About Eve.The script was worked on by Budd Schulberg and F. Scott Fitzgerald. This experience led to Schulberg’s novel, The Disenchanted. Amazing what we’ll do for a paycheck.
Dow has received EPA permission to manufacture a new herbicide. Whoopee! May I write the lengthy list of instructions in 2 point font? Here are some familiar phrases: When used according to instructions…if you’re elderly, an infant or a farm worker… beware. This is followed by a list of chemicals with as many letters as a Greek name. If you are like me, you usually don’t read the labels past the caloric content.
My protagonist, Detective Steve Kulchek, inherited a love of science from his Aunt Bess. Aunt Bess belonged to a gardening book club that met at the Arsenal in Central Park. I too belong to the book club and it’s opened a world to me that I didn’t know. I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring only recently. It’s like admitting you never read To Kill a Mockingbird.
Over fifty years later, Rachel Carson is still controversial. Disagreeing with her thesis that the chemical DDT had harmful effects, is fair. I’m bothered by the shocked attitude as if Carson presumes to question the mighty gods of science. Here’s an example of a capitalist god putting a mere mortal in her place: Steve Forbes, in an article called Mass Murder, writes:The shock is not the misinformation found in a nearly 50-year-old book or the fact that environmental extremists, many of whom seem to be antipeople anyway, cling to it. It’s that governments, foundations and health agencies still pander to these lethal prejudices.
To quote “Big Yellow Taxi”
Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT
I don’t care about spots on my apples,
Leave me the birds and the bees
Amnesty International mailed me a 12” by 12” 2015 paper calendar. Is there any more dated symbol of a bygone world? The paper calendar is in the same category as all those deserted malls. Isn’t the internet, or a similar communication device, here to stay? In addition to the expense of producing the calendar, the contents are highly suspect. There are colored photos of pretty dark children smiling in soft focused lighting. We know Panos Pictures did the photos because the credit is almost an inch high and mentioned three times. It’s Project Runway meets the Sierra Club. Some day these shots might be considered vintage. Now they’re only dated examples of another charity spending its money unwisely. What a distortion of human suffering. What a waste of money.
Vivaldi is to Venice what Gershwin is to NYC. I was thinking this while listening to the mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato at Carnegie Hall. She was celebrating Venice. In addition to Vivaldi, she sang the works of Faure´, Rossini, Head, Hahn and DeCurtis.It’s all lovely and wonderful to hear, but I favor Vivaldi because he’s a hometown boy and I associate his music with the churches, Santa Maria della Pieta and San Vidal. Who was San Vidal? There’s a Carpaccio painting of him on horseback on San Vidal’s main altar. You can gaze at it and other paintings while listening to gorgeous music – Vivaldi, of course, at the church just over the Accademia Bridge.
Have you visited any of the following countries in the last 21 days, followed by a map of western Africa showing Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Maps of Vietnam, Irag, Iran, Syria come to mind. Do we have to have a health crisis or declare war to become interested in geography?
On October 28, I attended In Conversation with Carla Maxwell at Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance Studio on Grand Street. Ms. Maxwell is the artistic director of the Jose´ Limon Dance Company. It was a wonderful evening filled with reminiscences about Doris Humphrey (1895-1958) and Jose´ Limon at Bennington during the thirties. It included clips of a 1938 performance of Passacaglia which Paul Taylor is presenting this coming season.
Later in the week I saw Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour. It’s at IFC on 6th Ave. Edward Snowden comes across as a thoughtful, articulate man who made difficult and ethical decisions for which he’s paying big time. There’s much too much of the journalist, Glenn Greenwald. I wish I had enjoyed the sound of his voice as much as he did. I think that Snowden’s revelations are useful for society but wish there had been more about conflicting views. God help him if, like Kim Philby, he will have to spend the rest of his life in Russia.
Tutututu much! Have you overdosed on Halloween? Bear with me, please. Regard this charming lad in a tutu. He is the Sunday school teacher of the person who’s lost his head.
The Netherlands are still reverberating in my imagination since my recent trip. And who of the Dutch is apt to reverberate most of all? Rembrandt. This is the Frick Collection’s Rembrandt Self-Portrait. Paintings bought during Henry Clay Frick’s lifetime (1849-1919) are not allowed to leave the Collection. The 1658 self-portrait was bought in 1906. I asked an artist friend about the staff that Rembrandt is holding in his left hand. Frank Galuszka, an artist, wrote me that it was a mahlstick. To quote Frank, ” I have used a mahlstick – I bought one at Winsor & Newton in London more than forty years ago and still use it, though not frequently, since I feel like I need three hands to paint as it is and handling a mahlstick would require a fourth! It was awkward to bring on the plane because the stick-part was bamboo. Now they have them unscrewing into sections. The head of the maul/mahl stick was chamois. More than you need to know, but who knows it could turn up as a murder weapon in your next book! (Readers, take note!)
It was so important to Rembrandt because he used straight linseed oil as a medium (the historian-conservators tell us this- I didn’t believe it at first) and that means his paintings would stay wet for a long time. This makes his terrific blending possible through all the varying stages of resistance as the paint sets up, probably a week or more. each stage of resistance offers unique possibilities, giving a dimension to the possibilities of paint-handling in painting.”
Viisiting the Reiksmuseum and going to the Wardens of the Amsterdams Guild on the fourth floor (?) of the Rijksmuseum was cosy, as if we were all squished together into the 17th century. Rembrandt was an interior painter, mostly. Even the Polish Rider, painted in 1655, doesn’t dwell on the details of nature. None of Vermeer’s lovely cityscapes or opened windows.
Back to Frank Galuszka: “I have just finished a completely Dutch painting that I am happy with. The Dutch had (procedural) secrets for everything, and I think these secrets are still unknown. I am absorbed working out an understanding of how they conceptualized painting certain things, such as clouds. Very exciting!”
A toast to the British Parliament and its recognition of the Palestinan state.
I went to a party last night. It was filled with warmth, dancing, glitz and humor. It was principal dancer’s Wendy Whelan’s Farewell to the New York City Ballet. The David H. Koch Theater was packed. It was a wonderful tribute from behind the footlights. Two of the choreographers who have worked with Wendy Whelan closely, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky, created a ballet for her and her two principal partners, Tyler Angle and Craig Hall. It’s called BY 2 WITH & FROM. Last night she and Hall also danced Wheeldon’s AFTER THE RAIN and she and Angle danced an excerpt from Ratmansky’s CONCERTO DSCH. During the evening there were short clips from a documentary about Whelan. She was shown fostering to NYCB younger dancers and celebrating, in bittersweet fashion, her October 18 retirement after thirty years. The affection for Whelan flowed across the stage to the audience and visa versa. At the end of the evening, most of the NYCB appeared on the stage. At first, they arrived one by one, each offering W. W. a bouquet. It was a lovely, gentle sight gag. Within minutes she was weighed down with flowers. Still, they kept coming and we, the audience, kept laughing like kids watching a beloved relative being teased.
Farewell to Wendy Whelan. The NYCB on stage
Since I couldn’t offer Wendy Whelan real flowers I’ll offer her virtual flowers.
We returned to NYC yesterday. On the Delta flight I watched two movies and one documentary. There are movies and then there are the ones you watch when you’re in the air. Blue Jasmine is a flight flick. Cate Blanchett looks like a tired swan who sweeps through her scenes talking in her Katherine Hepburn accent. At times I thought I was watching A Streetcar Named Desire. Veronica Mars is an awful, homemade movie. It’s not even a flight flick. Then, the documentary, Nixon on Nixon. Usually, I can’t wait to get off a plane. Many people tense when landing approaches. Not me except yesterday when I was so enthralled by the late and ex President Nixon’s comments that I wanted the flight to continue. I can understand in a Machiavellianway why a paranoid and powerful person would have people secretly recorded. What I cannot understand is why Nixon, knowing he too was being recorded, would not have been more circumspect in his comments.
I’m in a movie frame of mind. In Amsterdam we went to the Tuschinski theatre. It’s a massive 1921 movie palace. If you sit in one of the private booths, drinking champagne, you can imagine the days when Marlene Dietrich appeared there in variety acts. Otherwise, you can sit in the comfortable seats and stare at the beautiful balconies and ceiling. We saw Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn’s wonderful novel. It’s an engrossing adaptation, but the ending was rushed, as if the director had another project in the wings. Rosamund Pike was perfect. Ben Affleck was a big mistake. He’s a movie star, not an actor. But what a theatre. Oh, yes, the movie is subtitled in English.
We flew to Amsterdam, took several trains and trams to our funky hotel, fell into bed and several hours later explored the lovely, charming neighborhood. If you’re a bike phobe like me you might want to jump on the nearest train or plane, but after a day I had a change of heart. At first I thought the Amsterdam bikers (old, young, kids and or dogs in barrel contraptions attached to the front of the bike or seated on tiny bucket seats) were like flocks of starlings but I was wrong. They are like swallows. They swoop and swerve, as graceful and skillful as dancers.The Reiksmuseum, renovated after ten years, is sleekly modern and classically (17th Century) Dutch. We bought the 60 euro ticket that allows you admittance to most museums over the entire country for a year. Well worth it. We went to the Van Gogh, naturally. Museums are going through an upheaval about the cell phone camera, as if you didn’t know.You can photograph in the Reiksmuseum but not in the Van Gogh. There’s a purse museum (no photos) not to be missed.The Hermitage (Photos are okay but leave your purse, bag pack etc. at the counter.) has a place in Amsterdam.Nearby is the delightful botanical garden. About the food: the Dutch stands with the fresh, raw herring, salmon and beer were a treat. We took a side trip to The Hague and its wonderful museum More later.I’m writing this from Venice and battling an aged computer.
On Monday, September 22, President Mahmood Abbas of the Palestinian Authority spoke at Cooper Union. Have you ever been in the Cooper Union’s Great Hall? If so, you’ll remember how the columns abstract a full view of the stage so you and the rest of the audience bob and weave to see what’s going on. You’ll also remember that every speaker mentions that Abraham Lincoln spoke from that very podium. Mahmoud Abbas did this many times. His accent was so thick that Abraham had a wonderful Arabic ring to it and, at first, I didn’t know who he was talking about. It was an autumnal occasion: an elderly (79) politician who stayed the course even if he wasn’t particularly effective. The audience of about 700 consisted of mostly white, asian and arab millennials. There were several keffiyehs, the checkered headscarf worn by Palestinians and their supporters. Lots of yamakas. Groups of orthodox Jews and us. We were under the umbrella of Churches for Middle East Peace. You brought your sense of expectation with you. With a few exceptions (The current lot of the Palestinians is similar to that of the African Americans in 1950s USA), Abbas’s speech was boiler plate and aimed at a New York collegiate audience. And why not? It’s their generation that’s going to clean up the mess my generation and the preceding one created.It was a respectful group, lots of applause for Palestinian rights. Lots of standing ovations. Those who didn’t agree stayed seated and didn’t applaud. About eight years ago I attended a panel discussion between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli speakers. The late Tony Judt and John Meirsheimer were on the former side. Dennis Ross was on the latter side. The debate was sparked and fueled by the publication of Meirsheimer’s and Steven Walt’s The Israel Lobby. A woman with the unfortunate but unforgettable last name of Slaughter was the moderator. Cooper Union was packed. The air was electric. The forbidden topic: Israeli influence on the U. S. was being addressed. Quite an evening.
Mahmood Abbas at Cooper Union
Later this week I attended a birthday party in a Soho loft that combines elegance and cosiness. An extremely talented singer and guitar player, aged nine, accompanied by her musician father played for the birthday girl.
Who knew how spiffy The Museum of the City of New York had become? Everyone except me, that’s who. Even the name change reflects a streamline, upscale NYC: City Museum. On Tuesday we went to a lecture, co-presented with Central Park Conservancy, on the fort landscape before Central Park. Three historians described the effect of the Revolutionary War and of the War of 1812 on the site that would later become Central Park. A shoutout for the Central Park Conservancy. It was begun in 1980 and has raised $750 million to restore the Park.
I slipped out of town on Friday to attend a Judson Memorial Church weekend in Ivoryton, Connecticut. It’s held each year at the Incarnation Center, a beautifully run camp on 700 acres near the southern Connecticut coast line. Do not let the word camp fool you. The accommodations are basic and clean. The food is delicious and the lake is a joy to sit by or jump into. Judson always has interesting activities and lots of fun: There’s a workshop on energy and consciousness, the question session asked by the senior minister and answered by everyone present in 20 seconds or less, swimming, rowing, walking, lots of talking, a baseball game and a dance party and variety show on Saturday evening. On Sunday there’s a service in one of the two chapels. Some members of the congregation elected to stay at home and go on the Climate March on Sunday. Others chose to do both by leaving the weekend early.