Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Nature and Protest in America

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

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Washington DC, Glover-Archbold Park, Friday, November 11, 2016 at 2:42 and 2:46 pm.

Washington, DC, Glover-Archbold Park, Friday, Nov. 11, 2016 at 2:42 p,.

Washington, DC, Glover-Archbold Park, 11/11/2016, 4:26 pm.

New York City, Fifth Ave. at 30th St., Saturday, November 12, 2016 at 2:16 pm.

NYC, Fifth Ave. at 30th St., 11/12/2016 at 2:16 pm,.

NYC, Fifth Ave. at 30th St., 11/12/2016 at 2:16 pm,.

NYC, Fifth Ave. at 30th St., 11/12/2016 at 2:16 pm,.

 

Atlas and Patience in NYC

Saturday, April 11th, 2015

A gray afternoon in Manhattan on Wednesday.

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Atlas at Rockefeller Center, 04/08/2015 at 4:00:13 PM

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Patience the Lion at New York Public Library, 04-08-2015 (first at 4:12:00 PM; second at 4:12:12 PM)

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Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (Example No. 1)

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

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On Thursday of this week The New York TImes reported that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has decided, after 42 years, to stop issuing to each museum visitor one of its signature admission buttons. The colorful metal tags are being abandoned in favor of adhesive paper stickers. Cost is the reason.

The writers of the Times article anticipated my reaction: “In an era in which physical objects seem to be rapidly dematerializing into the digital, the loss of a durable little chunk of the Met will undoubtedly be missed.”

This sad news prompted me to dig out of my desk drawer some of the tags I’ve saved over the years.

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For many, these are mementos to be saved and cherished. For a few, these objects will continue to form the basis for a collector’s hobby.  As is true when collecting objects — coins and stamps are prime examples — each individual Met badge, once acquired, becomes a piece of a larger puzzle — a puzzle whose solution leads the collector into history, technology, and design evolution. The matter of design includes material, shape, size, color, and image. The questions are endless. Just take a look at the photos of the front and back — no, let’s call them recto and verso — and ideas will pop into your head.  Why, for example, was it decided to extend the color of the disk to the stem of the current (final) design, the one featuring an “M”?  Why does the depth of the “frying pan” differ from tag to tag?

Even among my collection of a mere dozen pieces there are so many variants! I suspect among the millions of Met tags manufactured, there are many accidental variants as well — “errors” that tantalize the collector with the most coveted of attributes: rarity. Note in the second photo how the metal generally is a tin or steel gray color, except for one instance of a brass-like finish. How rare is that issuance? Even more exciting is the middle tag in the bottom row. Its unpierced stem meant this was a flawed badge, sure to fall off of the visitor’s lapel. How many of these are out there? Do I own the “Inverted Jenny” of Met badges?

Hundreds of folks have commented on the Times article, most of them nostalgically. But one of them — Alan Wright (NJ) — offers a warning aimed straight at me:

“The only thing more wasteful than those stupid metal pins is any time spent researching, writing, reading, and commenting on them.”

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“An Object of Beauty” by Steve Martin

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

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Many readers are going to enjoy this rich, wise and entertaining novel, especially those of you who happen to be:

Part of the art world. “An Object of Beauty” is a closely-observed story that traces the rise and fall of a young business woman in New York City, from 1993 to 2009. It is set in a corner of the commercial arena that traffics in works of fine art. If you work or play in the world of artists, art dealers, gallery owners, auction houses and their supporting enterprises; or if you are simply a curious outsider interested in what Martin calls “this insular collective” — then “An Object of Beauty” is sure to please. During the course of a well-constructed tale, Martin holds a mirror up to the art community’s denizens and their transgressions. If this is unfamiliar territory, you’ll want to be in “learning mode” as Martin (himself an experienced buyer, seller, and lover of art) pauses the narrative from time to time to deliver a mini art history lesson next to an illustration of a painting or sculpture (there are 22 in all) important to the developing plot. On a practical note, he also offers tips on how to negotiate your way through this strange jungle. Martin names names and reveals prices (throughout the novel there is a Balzac-like focus on the prices of everything).

Collectors. Although the reader’s attention is on the wily plots of the young careerist Lacey Yeager, and secondarily on the fate of her friend Daniel (an art critic and the story’s narrator), the author also populates the book with a parade of minor characters who suffer from the collecting disease. They occupy a spectrum from the savvy and methodical to the passionate, obsessive, and borderline insane. Martin displays a psychologist’s skill in exposing the emotional sources of their never-ending longing. If you are, or if you know, a capital-“c” Collector (of coins, dolls, baseball cards, whatever), you will likely find these sketches funny and right on the money.

Fans of Mr. Martin. We know Steve Martin can be a consummate happy clown, and part of the marketing campaign for this novel will (misleadingly) associate the book with his antic, feel-good, sweetness-and-light side. But Martin is more than that, as true fans and readers of his two novellas (Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company) know. And we value and trust his serious interests. Yes, there is wit in the new novel, and Martin’s trademark wordplay and love of paradox (“it was easier to sell a painting that was not for sale”), but he wisely suppresses his protean comedic chops in furtherance of the story. Fans of the author will appreciate that “An Object of Beauty” is a serious novel.

In telling a tale of misplaced values and money run amuck, in a world where relationships are polluted by greed and dishonesty, what comes through is Martin’s essential modesty. He avoids making definitive statements. While he may wax philosophical, especially on matters of aesthetics (his own seduction by the power of great art is evident), he makes no grand pronouncements. Instead, there is simply a keen-eyed view of human failings and, sadder still, a sober acceptance of the rarity of love. Martin is a quiet moralist.

“Sleepless Nights” by Elizabeth Hardwick

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

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Melancholy suffuses “Sleepless Nights.” A collage of memories, ruminations, vignettes, and character sketches, its 150 pages encompass a lifetime of poignant observations by a first-rate writer.

The book is most powerful as a remembrance of persons, mostly women, now dead (“They are gone, with all their questions unanswered”). Hardwick recaptures the essence of their lives, examining without compromise “the niceness and the squalor and sorrow.” Hardwick’s prose is a wonder. She assembles telling details in the service of building a series of fateful narratives. She produces writing that is in the best sense “novelistic” — even if the resulting book falls outside the category of a novel. The book is beyond category, and is no less rewarding for that fact.

Every few pages Hardwick recounts another love story she either participated in or was a wide-eyed witness to. She refers to them as “love affairs with energy and hope.” Each affair begins well. For example, she describes a temporary roommate in her Manhattan apartment, a gay man who “was one of those who look into new eyes and say: Now I am going to be happy.” Yet every affair turns tragic, in its own way. These stories are so fully (yet economically) modeled that you’ll swear, by the close of the book, that you’ve read several novels. With Hardwick, the relationships of men and women, of both high and low station, almost always lead to bitter endings. Closest to home, a sad bitterness attaches to Hardwick’s own reflections on men, from her earliest encounters (among the “couples, looking into each other’s eyes, as if they were safe”) to her caustic memory, at the book’s end, of “a lifetime with its mound of men climbing on and off.”

Hardwick always shows a remarkable empathy for the life journeys of others, especially for the deprived, those she finds “worn down by life.” Of a janitor, Hardwick notes: “He was one of those men who acted as if he expected to be shouted at and would not know how to reply.” Early in the book she profiles the doomed Billie Holiday, whom Hardwick knew in New York City in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The author re-envisions the jazz singer’s life, starting with a quick sketch of her physic presence (“the heavy laugh, marvelous teeth, and the splendid head, archaic, as if washed up from the Aegean”), moving on to her performances, then offering the lesson of her early death (“she shared the changeling’s spectacular destiny and was acquainted with malevolent forces”). A later chapter of the book, Part Nine, stands apart as a remarkable essay about the cleaning women whose lives intersected with Hardwick, as she moved from homes in Maine, Boston, and New York City.

The scope of Hardwick’s curiosity is wide-ranging, yet three of her interests struck me as noteworthy. One is her odd fascination, her obsession, with people’s teeth. While she tends to introduce new characters with only minimal physical descriptions, she invariably tales note of the person’s dental health, as if it were a critical component of moral character. Is this a bit of folk wisdom absorbed in her youth spent in the horse-breeding state of Kentucky? A notable item in her bag of writer’s resources is her familiarity with farm animals and their behavior, which she freely applies to people. A Depression-era socialist organizer in rural Kentucky “had the look of a clever turkey.” Two city street people, homeless women, “wander about in their dreadful freedom like old oxen left behind, totally unprovided for.” A final attachment is Hardwick’s love/hate relationship with New York City. Early in the book she argues for a clear linkage between person and place: “It is not true that it doesn’t matter where you live.” Her verdict on Gotham: “This is New York, with its graves next to its banks.” And then there’s this surprising statement: “A woman’s city, New York.”

I recommend “Sleepless Nights” to writers who want to write better. Hardwick belongs to the elite class of “writers’ writer”; come and learn from her. I also recommend the book to anyone fascinated with Manhattan of the post-WWII era, and to anyone who wants to spend a few hours with a companionate teller of women’s truths.

[A version of this review appears on Amazon, here.]