A Beautiful Thing

metrocardWhen I was a kid and my father would bring me into the city for a visit to a museum or to the theater, we’d take the train and then the subway, using those old tokens. I still have one or two somewhere, in the bottom of my coin bottle. I couldn’t get rid of them. Even though the MetroCards are wonderful conveniences (but they also have allowed the MTA to easily and substantially increase prices over the years), the tokens were cool.

I like to walk, when the weather is good. This is a perfect city for walking, except for the tourists. In the summer, it’s good, because lots of people leave. I had a car when I first moved here, but it met with an unfortunate combination of explosives and fire. So much for the combustion engine, eh? I use the subway when I have to go long distances, but that hardly happens, except for visiting Lincoln Center or MOMA.

When I was a child, my father let me figure out how many tokens we’d need for our trips to the city. We saw the Nutcracker, skated at Rockefeller Center (even though there was a better place in Princeton, it was still cool to go there at Christmas and skate near the tree), and went to dinner at the top of the World Trade Center once to celebrate some award I’d gotten. It still gives me a lump in the throat, what was lost there.

It’s a wonderful city. Not mine yet, but I hope it will be someday.

Welcome 2019 with Wands

A little late getting to this; sorry to all my avid followers! I am not one for resolutions or joining gyms to get a fresh start in January. Bah! Humbug! (Just kidding.)

seven of wandsI did pull some cards on New Year’s Day, and an interesting one popped up that really does shed some light on why I’m not skipping down the street these days. The Seven of Wands is depicting one man’s battle against many, which can seem overwhelming, or even pointless. Symbolically, it represents an ongoing struggle to decide whether to stand and fight for something – against seemingly overwhelming odds – or wait for another, better opportunity to fight and win. It’s hard to know when you’re tangled up in the daily struggle if you’re making the right choices.

Is NYU the right place for me? Do I even have a chance to get tenure there, and what will I have to compromise to get it? On the other hand, will my novel ever get published, or will I have to alter it so much that it won’t be my story any longer? Should I scrap it and start something else, or should I take it to another publisher? And what about Yurgos – why did he show up here? Never mind how he’s messed things up with Ty… which I hope I can salvage. If that’s the right thing. My nice quiet life has just exploded, and I’ve got some things to sort out.

Maybe I should join a gym. Kick-boxing sounds like good therapy.

Is it Art?

And now for something completely different.

Purists would argue that architecture is not art. I suppose that’s technically true, and most architects are technicians, not artists. But there are some, rare and special, who change the landscape with their visions. Who change the very way we see what a building can be, and what the word “construction” can mean.

And of course many people hate these buildings.

But to me, they are endlessly fascinating. They dance.

gehry dancing house prague

This is Frank Gehry’s “Dancing House,” built in 1996 in Prague. It is fondly known as Fred and Ginger, for those two fine dancers who are represented by the structures on the corner (Ginger Rogers on the left, wearing the dress and, naturally, dancing backwards on heels). The modern apartment house is in the historic part of Prague and has become an international destination, as have most of Mr. Gehry’s iconic buildings.

Many of his large structures, for example the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles or the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain, are twisting curves of shiny steel, soaring overhead in impossible shapes. They are whimsical, playful, and yet, workable spaces for the activities that take place inside the shell. They are magical; moving as light changes, colors shift across the surface and emanate from within, disappearing at one moment only to reappear, massive, the next.

New York by Gehry, a 76-story apartment building on Spruce Street, appears almost like a wrinkled piece of foil at first glance, almost delicate and subtle compared to his usual attention-seeking designs. Look closer: the actual design is so clever that the scope of its effect is the magic part. Ta-da!

We need more of these “fun” buildings in a city that has become far too vertical and boring; I want Fred and Ginger to take a turn down Broadway and perhaps bring us a swirling concert hall, or even a wacky medical venue such as the Center for Brain Health at the Cleveland Clinic Las Vegas.  How about seducing people’s with some “street art” that will get their toes tapping, their synapses crackling, and their hearts filled with love for a new New York?

Architecture. It’s art, with a new vision for urban life… and the science to make it real.

(To see these buildings, and others, by Frank Gehry, click here.)

On This Small Island

Housing costs a lot of money. On this little island, twelve miles long and not very wide, it’s amazing what some people will pay for an apartment. Millions. As others live in cardboard above airshafts and in tents in the parks, some of us are lucky enough to have real homes. How does this happen, how can we square that up?

The commute into New York for the “working class” is getting longer and longer, as folks need to go further out to find affordable housing. Students and young faculty are lucky to be offered places to live at the many academic institutions around town, as I did when I first rode into Manhattan on two screeching wheels, ready to conquer the world. But I wanted to do it without exposing my past – and that meant I had to live off what I made. No digging into the secret bank accounts, Cassie!

When I did have to hide from some bad people from my past, I didn’t go “underground,” as they say. I went to the Pierre Hotel, seen in the photo below. Known as one of the most expensive in New York, it has rooms to rent by the night, week, month, or longer. It also has extravagant condos for sale. If you want to see how the 1% live, Google this place, and get ready to retch. (Yes, I stayed there. What can I say? It was an emergency.)

pierre hotel outside

It’s hard to be “normal” and live according to your means in Manhattan. No to the designer shoes and clothes!! No to the chic new dining establishments! No to the hottest hair salon in the Village! You can eat if you buy your food at C-Town, just check the expiration dates; be thankful that “vintage” clothes are still a thing and shop accordingly.

My determination to start fresh and live a modest life lasted an entire year. It was going along swimmingly until the murder of the leader of my writer’s group. I still didn’t think there was any reason to alter my beige existence, even after my best buddy Michael criticized the decor in my faculty apartment. I mean, really? It’s a stack of boxes (see below).

NYU Faculty housing

The location is primo and the price cannot be beat (and there’s parking beneath the building, if you can afford both the fees and the car). But if and when the feces hit the fan at work, not only is your job suddenly in jeopardy, you’d better be ready to join the fellas living on the airshaft. I guess that’s one way to keep the workers in line.

I prefer the Pierre.

Modern Life, Modern Art

NOR Skrik, ENG The Scream

“The Scream” by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1893) is one of the most well known paintings in the world. The artist painted four versions of it, but it has been reproduced and recreated for many other purposes throughout its long life. What did it mean to the artist, and perhaps more importantly, what does it mean to the millions of people who respond to it so strongly?

On its face, so to speak, it is the symbol of the anxiety we all feel in the modern world. Yes? Can you relate to the look of horror, fear, and “screaming mimis” that you see here? Is the subject an escapee from an asylum, or some kind of hospital? The swirling waters – echoed in the curving body and skeletal face – are offset by the brilliant sunset which also has its warning of threatening weather coming. Contrast those roiling features with the straight-laced couple approaching from the rear: thin, unbent, dark, they are unaffected by the chaotic sky and sea as well as the keening creature just ahead. What a contrast!

Which do we identify with? The calm pair having their evening constitutional, or the kook having a breakdown on the pier? To read all the interesting theories about why Munch chose the site, the colors, the subject, etc., there are plenty of articles on the Internet including some credible basic information on Wikipedia.

I’m interested in your thoughts about the reason this painting became an icon. I can see the Mona Lisa, but the Scream? To put this in a little perspective, one of the versions, a pastel done in 1895, sold at Sotheby’s for $120 million in 2012. Is it really one of the most important pieces of modern art ever painted?

Migraines, Verticality, the Cure

Tantalizing title, no? If only it was more than a report from the headache wars. Fond memories of curling up under a table in the NY Police Dept, trying to block the light, asking for an Excedrin or a bullet. Tossing my cookies on Ty’s foot was the highlight of that day, I’ll tell you.

Spending time vertically, and not in an enjoyable sense, makes space for serious pondering. Is the ice pick in the side of my head visible to anyone else? How many hours of my life have been lost to pain in the brain? Am I having an aneurism?

One popular treatment is Botox injection – and they say it makes you look younger, too. With my luck, I’d end up with a third ear growing from my forehead. Pass.

I’m developing a plan that involves radical stress reduction: yoga practice, daily meditation, quality time with my cat, and reducing caffeine consumption. That last one may be impossible. Who am I kidding? They’re all impossible, but I’m going to bite the bullet and see what happens!

Gender and Art

So if a person were to count up the number of male versus female nudes depicted in museum-quality art, what percentage would you think are female? Aside from naked male statues, and the many depictions of a baby Jesus in all his unclothed glory, male genitalia really gets the short shrift in the art world. Could be because the overwhelmingly male population of painters has more interest in depicting breasts that penises, and who could blame them? Even female painters tend to stay away from them. Some statues were so upsetting to the men in charge that they had to be covered with fig leaves or codpieces or drapery. Pretty drastic.

Giant-Louise-Bourgeois-sp-010There’s one artist, the sculptor Louise Bourgeois, who primarily did gigantic spiders and creepy things like that – but she also did a few penis sculptures that are really something to see. I’m not going to put a photo of one of those in this blog, although it is tempting. Instead, this is a giant spider called “Maman” that was shown all over the world and stands more than nine meters tall. Bourgeois also sculpted figures with multiple breasts (common in ancient sculpture as well), some that look like intestines wrapped outside the body, and lots of eyes peering from within solid structures.

So, what does it all mean? Damned if I know. It’s just messing with the students trying to do their assignments for my class, “Boobs and Dicks All Over the Place.” Turns out, you can spot plenty of boobs in NYC, but a good dick is hard to find.