Private Maps

August 18th, 2008 § 1 comment

Those of us with a terrible sense of direction have a reliance on habit and visual recognition to know which way is up, down, east or west, making maps essential to learning a new city. Like understanding a network of subway lines, made up of colors, numbers, letters, and destinations, maps are not as difficult to read as I always supposed. The hardest part has always been the transition from understanding streets connecting on a two-dimensional map, to streets connecting from the street itself. Being underground is like being spun around with a blindfold, every time I emerge from the subway I find myself looking up and turning in circles as though seeing something new. The most difficult aspect in mapping Gotham, however, seems to be in creating a mental map of neighborhoods that connects together. Areas in the city are so diverse and separated from one another they feel like cities within cities. It was Joe who said that one block can make no difference or all the difference.

For the present it is not necessary to know why this is, it is overwhelming enough just to observe the separations. Richmond broke down into manageable pieces, downtown was the business heart, the fan residential, the outskirts commercial, and the rest suburban. Gotham neighborhoods require what feels like an insanely specific map, neighborhoods cannot be grouped together, only connected by strands of similarity. Neighborhoods also don’t feel like they have delineated lines, like looking for state lines they draw strange shapes in the cities landscape. They don’t feel flat and orderly, instead junctions pile upwards onto each other, as though fighting for space. It seems impossible to make the flowing and coherent document of the city that was appropriate in Richmond, instead images blend together only through the unlikely nature of their existing side by side. Very little here feels private or hidden within residential buildings or even people, and yet their exterior is so trampled it is hard to get a clean look at anything; apartments don’t feel like homes, they exist as a place to sleep.

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Hysterical Encounters II

August 17th, 2008 § 0 comments

(at the farmers market)

Inwood has its own neighborhood farmers market, not very large compared with others in the city, but large enough and close enough to render us regular Saturday goers. Considering that we live in a predominantly Dominican neighborhood where English is the second language, the farmers market is strangely white. The sellers are what the Fossil calls yuppies who moved outside the city to become farmers (occasionally organic) that are now “one” with nature. The markets customers are of a slightly different sort, most are considerably older than we are, families with children, who shop with a pushy determination to get “the best” first. I miss the Arab market in Monty, somehow it was busier, dirtier, much cheaper, and far less claustrophobic—here elderly ladies follow you from booth to booth stepping on heals. Americans don’t really seem to be comfortable in an environment that is not regulated and familiarly corporate, the smallness of the booths and the “unorthodox” setting makes us contagiously self-conscience.

Despite this, however, it unanimously beats the markets (especially those in Inwood). The produce is good, it tastes shockingly like food ought to taste. We have been enjoying corn, zucchini, and numerous leafy plants the Fossil loves to munch. The fruit reminds me of the trees we grew in California, apples that taste like sun, peaches that are always bruised but drippy with flavor anyhow. There is the milk lady who sells whole milk, and yogurt at the organic bakery. The bread, though good for American bread, cannot compare to the worst French bakers. I still miss the simple pleasure of spending less than a euro, and walking home with a warm loaf of bread.

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Hysterical Encounters I

August 17th, 2008 § 0 comments

(on the subway)

Riding down to the east village, meeting friends for drinks before the onslaught of rain, required connecting with one of the numerous trains cutting across town. Three years on subways in Chicago teaches you that some seats are more preferable to others, for various reasons: leg room, distance from others, direction of the seats to the trains direction. Of the usual three seated bench facing into the train car I always pick the seat by the door, preferring one person to my right than being sandwiched between two.

The elderly lady who entered the train a few stops after us, did not seem to prefer this seat, however, instead taking the far end of the bench, closest to us, and giving me the advantage of staring at her profile without detection. She was perhaps in her mid-sixties; she was dressed in the usual fashion of those living on the Upper East Side, conservative in essence but outlandish enough to show the “designer” quality of her clothes. In a pantsuit of assorted floral patterns, she was brightly colored in greens and yellows, having even yellow flowered earrings to match. She sat in a prim manner radiating dislike of subways, and these people they cart about the city. We smirked slightly upon her arrival, and she looked as uncomfortable on the subway as we generally do walking in the Upper East Side.

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The Pajama Clad Director

August 10th, 2008 § 3 comments

julian schnabel

Consistency in directors, or expecting consistency, has become such a problem of late that I am beginning to think I simply shouldn’t expect it. There are some men of whom I could forgive just about anything, I sat through Don’t Come Knocking in France, yet I don’t think Julian Schnabel is one of them. For the painter he was hyped to be in the 1980’s, introducing himself as the “greatest American painter”, I don’t think I have knowingly seen his works in person. I might have passed by one in the past, missing the name or ignorant of it, and admittedly my knowledge of painters, especially hotshot, pajama personalities showing at Mary Boone, is deliberately faulty. Word in art jargon seems to be that as his reputation waned he turned to other mediums, including film. The Diving Bell’s success I credited to the director himself, and not to those who wrote and photographed the film—I say those two aspects now because the glaring problems with his previous films stems from the writing and the filming. Having recently watched Before Night Falls and Basquiat I am thinking a bit of “luck” was involved with his third film. His French cast was good, with characters flawed enough to be human, and the photography interesting enough to keep the film from wallowing in self-pity.

A fellow grad once made fun of the student body at VCU, saying with sarcasm, “it must be so hard to be white and middle class.” Both Before Night Falls and Basquiat dwell on the injustices of society, seen through the self-centered expectation that life should be fair. Avoiding plot specifics, Schnabel’s interest in biographies, and sadly mangled ones at that, runs through all three films. The protagonists are all men, all artists (of sorts), all were successful, and all created around them the myth of artistic tragedy. Perhaps Diving Bell is captivating only because its protagonist narrates a self-reflective story of a life well lived, shot through with mistakes, carelessness, and selfishness. Being “locked-in” almost seems to have woken the Elle editor up, or so the film states, as to the truth…

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Within A Week

August 6th, 2008 § 0 comments

The first week in nyc has been a strange one, a cross between grueling packing and unpacking, shifting and rearranging. The apartment has changed numerous times as I argued with D over where furniture should go, and what looked best where. It is odd how the same objects look and behave differently in a different sized/shaped place, objects that were deemed practical in Richmond have lost their purpose here. The # 4J made moving in a real pleasure—at least more of a task than that of moving out—even more enjoyable than a seven hour truck ride with a rather doped up, carsick, and miserable Boo. The apartment is now caught in a stage of livable confusion, it has come a long way since the box filled moment of my beginning, but it has a long way yet to go.


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