Thursday, October 30, 2014

GALWAY KINNELL, 1927-2014

I note that the poet Galway Kinnell died this past week.  I knew him slightly as a young man, and admired his work, his dedication, his passion for humanity.  Today's New York Times obituary honored the man and his work.  It concludes with a quotation that speaks to every writer, I think, every artist... "To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment."  Amen.

ANOTHER BLOG!

Oh, no!  I started another blog!  Like my new book, it's called "The Pilgrim's Staff", and it describes itself as "A Blog About Men."  I have made a few entries already, and will be doing more.  Today's is titled LOST MAN, and it's a reflection on the Denver Broncos fan who left the game at half-time and wandered off for a week before being "found" again in a Kmart parking lot a hundred miles away.  A fascinating story.

I feel at home writing about men.  I am one, of course.  I was also deeply involved in "men's work" for more than twenty years.  I staffed men's weekends, listened to men's stories, learned to like them.  Masculinity fascinates me, because we men understand so little about it, sometimes fear it in ourselves, and often misuse it.  "The Pilgrim's Staff" is obviously about men.  I enjoyed writing it, and discovered a lot about myself along the way--which is after all the reason that I write.

It's not only men who are interested in men, of course.  I'm almost tempted to say that women are more interested in men than men are.  We all struggle to understand the opposite sex.  We're different in so many ways.  Women have worked hard in the past half century to understand more completely who they are, and to establish their equality in a society that has traditionally favored men.  In my opinion, we men have some catch-up work to do in terms of consciousness about who we are and how we can best live our lives.  So there's much to talk about.

If you're interested, please check out the blog.  And please pass on the link.  I'd appreciate that.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

THE POLITICAL SCHTICK: Theater Review

(I promised a review of "Tail! Spin!"  Here it is...)

In New York last week, I made it a point (no pun intended!) to see “Tail! Spin!”, a hilarious political satire on our wayward politicians and their penises.  You’ll remember Anthony Wiener’s infamous—and virally viewed—selfie (“I was hacked,” he moaned); and Larry Craig’s “wide stance” in the airport men’s room; and Mark Foley’s predilection for congressional pages; and Mark Sanford’s trek on the Appalachian Trail.  Here they are, all four of them, in their own self-righteous words,   It’s a riot. impeccably re-enacted by a fabulous cast, with all their excuses and explanations, their
deflections and--finally--their unconvincing, if abject apologies.
Okay, it’s a riot.  But it’s really a pretty sad tale.  We men—you women may have noticed—seem to have a hard time controlling our libidos.  Or no, it’s not really a matter of “control”, it’s more a matter of knowing how to use our sexual gifts joyfully, to the appropriate satisfaction of our natural impulses and those of our partners; and of knowing how to do so without causing pain to those we love or to ourselves.  It’s not the penis that’s at fault, it’s the way that it’s handled (again, please, no pun intended!)

We do love to hate our politicians.  We have reason to hold a good number of them in contempt.  Our current flock is notably incompetent.  Inflexible, humorless, pontificating, phony-patriotic, self-assured in the worst possible way, they seem incapable of the kind of action we expect from our elected leaders.  The “system” is in part to blame: they spend a great deal of their time prostrated at the altar of money, incurring indebtedness to the wealthiest donors who naturally expect something in return.  But it’s the same system that attracts the kind of “professionals” who neglect the needs of those they are supposed to serve in favor of their own self-interest—which primarily takes the form ego satisfaction and eventual re-election.

Still, these four guys and their penises…  They are properly skewered in “Tail! Spin!”, and by nothing other than their own venality.  It requires little clowning on the part of the actors to make them look at once pathetic and absurd.  The male cast—Arnie Burton, Sean Dugan, Nate Smith and Tom Galantich as the principals—are ably assisted by assisted by Rachel Dratch...
of SNL fame, who plays a series of dubiously dutiful wives as well as a truly hysterical Barbara Walters.  The action is enlivened as each of the principals jumps into roles other than his own: we have lawyers and journalists, page boys and fellow congressmen all joining in the farce.  The set has the familiar appearance of the debate stage, but the podia are no more than props for lively antics.

We laugh at them all, but remain painfully aware of the damage wrought by such men not only on the rapidly eroding trust in our political lives, but particularly on their suffering families and wives.   Their overweening arrogance, their apparently unshakeable belief in their own invulnerability, their contempt for everything but the satisfaction of their own lust, is not only laughable—but appalling.  Regrettably, such exemplars of our sex also ask us men to take a good look in the mirror and see the (somewhat distorted) reflection of our own libidinous selves!  If we’re not conscious how we use it, the penis has a lot to answer for. 

Eventually, though, it’s all about power, isn’t it?  It’s about men who, out of their own desperate insecurity about their manhood, need to assert false dominance—and mistake the penis for the proper means to do it.  Submit to my rod, submit to my rule.  That’s the tragedy behind this farce.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

EAST VILLAGE

(It's Monday morning and we're back in Los Angeles.  I did not get to our New York Sunday yesterday, so here we go...)

Sunday, October 26

My morning newspaper and coffee run proved to be more of a trek this morning.  I discovered that our small neighboring Starbucks does not carry the Sunday edition of the Times, and it took a walk down to Grand Central Station before I was able to find one.  Stopped at a different Starbucks--it seems that there's one for every block in New York City, for our morning tea/coffee.

Spent the morning catching up with the blog.  Late morning, Ellie had a breakfast date with her friend Alice, which allowed me the opportunity to get some writing done.  On her return, we took the subway south from Grand Central and emerged on Bleeker Street--where we had matinee tickets at the Lynn Redgrave (off-Broadway) Theater later in the afternoon.  Crossing Houston, we found a Whole Foods with a cafeteria for a bite to eat, then ventured on into the unfamiliar territory of the East Village.

It's somewhat like SoHo a few decades ago--dozens of new galleries and restaurants opening up, and a lively, mostly young community.  We made a quick visit to the New Museum on the Bowery, and were disappointed to be a couple of days too early for a Chris Ofili show.  Lili Reynaud Dewar's show, "Live Through That!?" on the ground floor was an installation that combined video with recorded sound and draped material printed with a narrative that seemed to document the artist's sex life.  Should have been right up my alley, but I found the "peek-a-boo" effect of the installation a little tiresome.

We wandered on through the streets of the East Village, stopping here and there in galleries along the way--but really more interested in the ambience of the environment than in the art.  We did find one engaging show at Eleven Rivington, where the Brazilian-born artist Valeska Soares had created a kind of minimalist clock--we almost missed it from the street--with a gold pocket watch, its hour hand removed, suspended by a chain from a circular track that took precisely an hour to complete.  A nice conception, neatly executed...

We had a good laugh at "Tail! Spin!" later in the afternoon.  This satirical piece was an verbal collage of the actual words of four of our (most recent) libidinous male politicians--Anthony "I Was Hacked" Wiener, Mark ("Appalachian Trail")Sanford, Larry ("Wide Stance") Craig and Mark ("Congressional Pages") Foley.  Having heard about it in Los Angles, I was anxious to see it because it fits in so well with my current interest in men behaving badly--which is after all the topic of The Pilgrim's Staff.  I plan to write a review of the show to post on the blog.  Enough to say, for the moment, that the show was as hilarious as you might expect.

After the theater, we took a taxi back uptown and stopped for dinner at Davio's, an elegant Northern Italian restaurant on Lexington.  Excellent food, and excellent service--and really our one and only elegant dinner in New York.


Monday, October 27

Our return flight to Los Angeles was not scheduled to leave until later afternoon, which left us time to  head up to the Met after breakfast, to complete our visit to the Cubist show, cut short earlier in the week by museum closing time.  I liked it better on the second visit, which allowed us some more leisurely time with the second half of the show, devoted to Juan Gris and Fernand Leger--both of whom, I thought, came off very well in the Lauder collection.  I enjoyed the "mystery/thriller" aspect of Gris' work, which I had not known about before; and Leger seemed colorful, lively and full of the human interest I found lacking in both Picasso and Braque.

Back to the hotel after lunch to pick up our bags, in nice time to head out to JFK to catch out Jet Blue flight back to Los Angeles.  A relatively quick and easy flight, with crosswords and a thriller to finish.  And a car to drive us home, where George was quite pleased to have us back...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

BROOKLYN


We were up in good time for a walk down to the 34th ferry pier to take the boat across for our planned day in Brooklyn.  Stopped at Pret à Manger--abbreviated, these days, to simply "Pret"--for a bite of breakfast.  A bit of a disaster.  We had expected something more interesting in the way of food.  We were not prepared for disinterested, unhelpful service.  And P succeeded in spilling a cup of hot mocha all down his jacket and trousers.  A great start for the day...

But the weather was wonderful--sunny, blue skies, and quite warm.  We found our pier and chatted pleasantly, first with an older couple from Gloucester, practically neighbors to my sister, Flora, in Cirencester; and he, like myself, a Geordie--born in Newcastle.  Then with a young German couple from Heidelberg, both physicians, with a cute young daughter and another one on the way.  The boat arrived perfectly on time, and we enjoyed a smooth crossing with spectacular views of Manhattan...


and the UN building...

UN building behind Ellie
of the Brooklyn Bridge...


and of Brooklyn itself.  We disembarked at North Williamsburg, where we met up with a young friend, Andrew Ohanesian, an artist and the son of our friends back in Laguna Beach.  (Click on the link to get a small, inadequate flavor of his innovative approach to viewer participation in socially-engaging artwork.)

Andrew had kindly agreed to escort us through the wilds of Brooklyn, a place we visit all too rarely when we're staying in New York.  From the West Coast, we have been following reports of the growing community of artists and galleries in this area, and were determined, this time, to make basic inroads.  Bushwick, particularly, seems the place to watch.  But first we stopped by Andrew's gallery in Williamsburg, Pierogi, which has an excellent reputation for the quality of work shown there, and promoted world-wide by the gallerist Joe Amrhein.  Joe was on hand with a friendly greeting and a good conversation.  Andrew was recently the star of a group show at the gallery, with the dramatic outside-the-gallery installation of a fake building project start-up--scaffolding, hard-hat signs, fake permits and all--in an ironic jab at the current gentrification mania that threatens to change the neighborhood.  It's all about money, property values, condominiums and apartment buildings--the old familiar process that drives artists further out and replaces them with monied suburbia.  (Read this review.)

The "further out" in Brooklyn, seems to be Bushwick--our next stop with Andrew, whose studio is located in a still somewhat seedy industrial area there.  First, though, on our way to lunch we stopped by a large gallery building that houses multiple artist's studios and galleries, and were happy to stumble on an exhibition by a very old friend, Arnold Mesches, who has been making socially conscious art for more years than most of us remember.  One of those suspicious lefties in his early years, he has recently been using his FBI files from the 1950s--now available through the Freedom of Information Act--to create satirical multi-media works that are, at once, lively reconstructions of a past episode in the artist's life and a sad and all-too-timely commentary on a country that sees fit to spy on its own citizens.  Arnold, I note on Wikipedia, was born in 1923.  You do the math.  It's great to see a still lively mind at work, and celebrated in an area where youth is all the rage.

A great lunch at Roberta's...


... where the garrulous crowds at long wooden tables not only inside the main restaurant but outside, under awnings and umbrellas, were testament to the place's well-earned reputation.  Andrew and I enjoyed a Bloody Mary before an excellent lunch of soft scrambled eggs and caesar salad--and, for Ellie and myself, a healthy bite of Andrew's pizza.

After lunch, we enjoyed a long walk through the graffiti-lined streets that border industrial yards and warehouse buildings to Andrew's studio.  He had opened the strip of street in front of his building to a group of funny-bile enthusiasts for the day...



... and we had a great time watching them parade their inventively modified machines--most of them in costumes as crazy as their bikes.  The studio is a proper mess, as studios should be, with projects of all kinds in various stages of completion.  We were happy to see Andrew's two-seater "bar"...


... which is one of his earlier creations: enter through one door and you are the "customer"; through the other and you're the bartender.  The tap is connected to a real keg of beer, and participants are invited to act out their respective roles as a part of the art work.  We had fun, too, with the over-the-top erotic paintings...


... created by Andrew's studio mate/tenant "Don Pablo Pedro", a heavily black-bearded young man of attractive energy and humor.  Look him up.  You can find more of his images here.

A great day in Brooklyn, then.  We missed the museum, but what the heck.  We saw a lot of other things, probably a lot more interesting!  Said a fond goodbye to Andrew...


... and took there subway back to Lexington, where we found a street fair in full swing, with the whole street cordoned off for many blocks...


Back to the hotel for a rest and a change, and a walk across town to meet up with our nephew, Danny, and his financée, Rachel, who had moved recently to a tiny, very lovely penthouse apartment overlooking the Hudson River.  A nice drop of vodka (for P; whiskey for E) and a warm catch-up conversation, then off for a Greek dinner in the theater district.  As usual, we succeeded in over-ordering, but we had a pleasant dinner.  We both so much enjoy the energy and perceptions of a generation younger than ourselves, it was a treat to spend time with these two young and energetic souls!

A walk back through the always-crowded, always-colorful, always-electrified Times Square...



... to our hotel.  Boat, subway, taxi, all have their advantages.  But the best way of all to travel in New York City is on foot.