The Big Snapple

Some of you know my longstanding feeling about New York City.

It wasn’t kind.

That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed visiting there. In fact, I’ve probably enjoyed it too much. My last significant visit for vacation, I was in my mid-twenties. It was me, a financial aid check, and every bar in Manhattan. Not to mention the shopping. I bought shoes, bags, a cheap fake watch and sunglasses in Chinatown. Whatever I couldn’t wear, I drank. And whatever I didn’t drink, I ate. It was a five-day loop of that, of waking up around noon, fuzzy-headed and warmed by the July sun spilling in through the windows of my friend’s Brooklyn flat. It was strange men in bars. It was spontaneous trips to Pommes Frites, to walk by The Cock and hear scandalous stories of its backroom (but not going in).

In fact, the happiest thing this side of love happened to me in New York: I was name-checked–loudly–by Reb Livingston as I exited the Prada store on 5th Avenue. It was like a dream. Except in the dream I have a black AmEx and a poolboy named Brody Jenner.

Possibly I loved New York too much and knew if I lived there, I wouldn’t be living long.

But that’s not all of it. Tall cities are dark, depressing. Oppressive. I hate the streets like long corridors with oversized walls. The smells. Oh, the smells. If the air doesn’t smell like something edible, it smells like things that used to be edible, or were eaten and then, you know, returned to the earth, so to speak. Not to mention there’s a higher than normal incidence of body odor among people within Manhattan itself. I don’t know if there’s any correlation.

On previous trips to Manhattan, I felt like everyone around me was thin, smoking a cigarette I wasn’t able to smoke myself, and wearing black. It was like the entire city was populated by semioticians! Many of the people I met were either artists or bankers. I remember meeting a young woman–let’s call her Amanda–who mixed drinks at a bar that only had red lighting in it. It was like having a martini in a Soviet propaganda ad. She had a boyfriend, she said, but sometimes liked to make out with girls. I don’t know why that’s such a strong memory. She was blond; her hair was the color of blood in the light.

This time, here’s what I noticed:
> Manhattan men are having a fashion crisis
> It really does smell like I remembered
> It’s really fun

Beau and I hit the Guggenheim and I loved the exhibits. The permanent collection, with its Renoirs and Gauguins and Degas…es, was a treat, but my favorite exhibition was the Kazimir Malevich, a Russian Suprematist, whose cubist/abstract paintings were like Mondrian on psychotropic mushrooms. The current exhibition, Haunted, featured some really intriguing pieces too. Some were a miss for me. But it was such a great space in which to view art.

We bustled over to meet a friend of Beau’s for coffee. At her salon, while we waited, I had my first real honest-to-god non-literary real famous person sighting: Sigourney Weaver. I did a good job of not staring, although perhaps it was obvious I was trying desperately not to stare. Still–and not that you care or it matters–she is a normal looking person and she was very warm and kind with the staff at the salon. I like a nice famous person. I also like supermegapowerbitches too (Blair Waldorf), but only when they’ve earned it. I didn’t see one of those.

After a nice coffee break, we dove into The Strand, which was crawling with people. The only thing I wanted? A t-shirt to replace the one I spilled food on. They didn’t have my size. They DID have a big sign by one of the shirts with Dan Humphrey on it that said AS SEEN ON GOSSIP GIRL, which made it sting even more.

We walked about 800 blocks back to our hotel and then changed to go see American Idiot, the musical based on the Green Day album of the same name. We were really early. I won’t lie. We were wearing the same thing we wore to the Lammys. (Reduce, reuse, rewear!) Just about everyone else going to the show looked like Jesse James: jeans, West Coast Choppers t-shirts. Some people went fancy with a long-sleeved polo shirt and a pair of Wranglers. The show itself was great. I knew most of the music really well. The set is astounding–it goes up and up and up. At the top of a fire escape that goes almost the entire height of the stage, a lone violinist sat playing her music. I felt for her. Being up that high would have made me dizzy and nauseated.

The choreography was what I’d call “masculine,” meaning it was minimal and mostly punching and stomping. Some performances were great, some…seemed like they couldn’t sing very well. As you know, I’ve often said musical theatre is neither musical nor theatre, but I make exceptions when the source material is non-traditional (American Idiot, Mamma Mia! or transgressive in some way (Spring Awakening, Jesus Christ Superstar).

Afterwards, we sauntered back to the hotel, fell asleep, and then woke up early to get on our BoltBus back to DC. A quick trip! But, possibly the best kind.

Bearing Still

Last night I went to the opening reception for photographer Tracy Longley-Cook’s show “Bearing Still.” Tracy graciously provided me with the cover image for Living Things, her photo “Cedar Waxwing.” We first met several years ago when we worked on ASU’s Visual Text Project, a collaboration between ASU’s MFA programs in visual arts and creative writing. In our project, Tracy photographed doll furniture at a range that destroyed concepts of scale, and I provided the object’s inner monologue in poems. “Dollhouse Triptych,” featuring a chair, curtains, and a teapot, turned out beautifully.

It was amazing to see a collection of Tracy’s work. She works with an 8″ x 10″ camera, taking enormous negatives, and her primary concern in this show was explorations of the natural world and the subconscious world. In one room, Tracy blew up several photos featuring a character she calls “The Scientist” (herself) as she works mostly with trees and vegetation, living, dead, and dormant. For these images, Tracy printed the photographs on a translucent paper and then backlit them for presentation, giving everything an eerie, sepia or gray glow.

The other room of the show featured two projects: a series of codex-like boxes with actual plants and plant elements pressed into wax on one side and glass etchings of plant diagrams on the other. It took me a while to realize that the codeces had square cuts on one panel in the back, and with the light shining from above, you could view another plant element through this square hole. They were beautiful, strange, almost Victorian.

The last set of prints were mounted on wood and then coated in a wax and resin mixture that gave each photograph a kind of blurriness as well as what Tracy called a “skin.” These photos seemed to mainly explore shape, line, pattern. My favorite print of the show featured The Scientist holding up a forked branch into an overwhelming visual field of storm clouds.

It was a fantastic show!

Airport Art

Last week, I had occasion to drop in to the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport’s Art Museum Gallery. A small space on the retail level of the terminal, the Gallery currently houses a striking show of photographs by students at South Mountain High School.

The Phoenix Airport Art Museum is one of the largest in the nation. The collection ranges from murals to paintings to sculptures and is house in six different buildings in the Valley’s three airports. The airport is funded by a policy called “Percent for Art,” in which up to one percent of all Phoenix capital improvement funds must be allocated to public art projects.

Anyway, the photos at the Gallery were amazing, both in their complexity of subject and in the technical skill involved in the photographs. The students at South Mountain who participate in the photography program (I believe it’s over twenty years old now) are trained on elements of composition, lighting, and production. At the end of the term, they produce a portfolio of work—one copy is given over to the Phoenix Airport Art Museum and the other is retained in South Mountain’s archives.

The students who attend South Mountain are part of a diverse student body and many of them live in lower income neighborhoods in that part of town. Their photography explores the world around them—most of the collection featured portraits of people in the students’ lives, including friends, sisters, boyfriends, and grandparents shot in their homes or in a studio setting—while others give little peeks into the vibrant social neighborhoods in which they live. A few pieces in the collection demonstrated a real concern for pattern—with so much sun in Phoenix, the play of light and shadow among various structures becomes something truly beautiful.

The lighting design in these photographs was especially memorable to me. The degree to which these young photographers demonstrated a talent for innovative light sources and shadow was nearly haunting. In the Gallery, twenty years of faces stare back at you, most without smiling. It was a real pleasure to participate in their work, and I hope the project continues to be successful