July 2009

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I promise this won’t turn into a baby blog, but I had to give us the chance to clean up a little.

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[/self-indulgent paternal pride] We’ll now resume our regular non-baby blogging …

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Charles Addison Smith Waterman
(“Charlie”)

Born 25 July 2009, NYC
8 lbs 6 oz, 20 inches

Everyone involved is at home & safe.

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Ephemeral New York has a great post up that includes this 1938 Weegee photo of a pile of kids sleeping on a city fire escape, hoping for cooler air than they’d find in the apartment. Other popular ways to keep the heat down, apparently, included sleeping on the beaches at Coney Island and Brighton, which people did in the thousands in the 30s, ENY reports.

Getting out of Lower Manhattan and cruising the Greater New York blogosphere …

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Historic taverns of the Old Post Road in Inwood [My Inwood]

More uptown stories: Tweeting a Caddy car chase in Washington Heights! [The Streets Where We Live]

Bronx Flavor featured in the Times. [via BoogieDowner]

Carroll Gardens Basil Wars have ended. [Lost City]

When Beer Gardens Ruled Queens [Queens Courier via Queens Crap]

Biking the Staten Island Greenbelt: Where are the bikes? [SI Notebook]

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Bonus: Free Camping in City Parks: Ranger Kathy added: “You’ll see a lot of crabs and ocean life [in Pelham Bay]. But, for
instance, if you did family camping at a Brooklyn park, it would
definitely focus on bats. There are a lot of bats in Brooklyn.”  [NYTimes

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The other day in the Union Square Barnes and Noble I skimmed a good portion of the architect and critic Michael Sorkin’s new book, Twenty Minutes in Manhattan. It’s a quick read, but energetic and enjoyable — a memoir of his morning commute from his West Village walk-up to his TriBeCa studio, seen through the detail-oriented eye of someone who knows how to read buildings and neighborhoods, day-by-day and decade-by-decade.

ArtForum recently published a quickie interview with Sorkin by the critic Brian Sholis (also available on Brian Sholis’s personal blog, which I’ve long enjoyed). It begins this way:

The idea for the book came about fifteen years ago. Walks are
contemplative times and spaces, and going over the same territory day
after day gave me the opportunity to see things over the relatively longue durée:
construction projects, seasonal activities, changes in commercial life,
in culture, in the population. After dilating internally on the happy
accidents produced by the city and on the quality of my immediate
environment, I thought I’d begin to write about it. Not only did I want
to do something a little bit popular, but also to bring together
discourses that are normally segregated: formal, economic,
sociological, political, quotidian. I wanted to show, for example, how
the ratio of a stair riser has ramifications up to the organization of
property and beyond. Twenty Minutes turned out to be
frequently delayed; I probably completed half a dozen other books while
writing this one. I was also gentrified out of my old studio midway,
which changed my route. But the walks were comparable and in the same
neighborhood. The only historical event that doesn’t fully register in
the pages of the book is 9/11, in part because I have dealt with it at
length elsewhere.

“Elsewhere” would be here.

As a more personal postscript, I have to say: Brian Sholis has taste. In a post earlier this year he noted some high quality reading on his nightstand.

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A particularly trenchant critique of Joseph O’Neill’s novel Netherland was offered by novelist Zadie Smith last fall in a New York Review of Books piece entitled “Two Paths for the Novel.”

Smith describes Netherland as an example of “lyrical Realism,” which she believes has become the preferred form for the literary novel:

A breed of lyrical Realism has had the freedom of the highway for some time now, with most other exits blocked. For Netherland,
our receptive pathways are so solidly established that to read this
novel is to feel a powerful, somewhat dispiriting sense of recognition.
It seems perfectly done–in a sense that’s the problem. It’s so
precisely the image of what we have been taught to value in fiction
that it throws that image into a kind of existential crisis, as the
photograph gifts a nervous breakdown to the painted portrait.

The other path that Smith describes is represented in her review by Tom McCarthy’s novel Remainder, which she describes as the latest landmark on “that skewed side road where we greet Georges Perec, Clarice Lispector, Maurice Blanchot, William Burroughs, J.G. Ballard.”

Take a look at Smith’s review and let us know what you think. Smith, by the way, will be joining the Creative Writing faculty at NYU in the fall. One of her current projects is a consideration of the novel as a vehicle for moral philosophy.

I feel like I’m a couple months late to the scene, but without a doubt I’ve found one of my favorite albums of 2009, and one of the best of the past decade, probably more: How Sad, How Lovely, by Connie Converse, a set of bold, quirky, quiet, sophisticated, playful, delightful, intricately rhymed, heartbreaking songs recorded half a century ago and only released this spring.

converse smoking.jpgConverse lived in the Village in the 50s and performed mostly for her friends. She never released a record and, apparently frustrated by that fact, left the city around 1960 for Michigan, where she spent the next years editing academic journals. In 1974, at age 50, she packed her belongings in an old Volkswagon bus, left good-bye letters for family, locked up a filing cabinet of poems and type-script journal entries, and then drove away, never to be heard from again. 

I heard the song “Father Neptune” on the WFMU show Inner Ear Detour with David last Friday. It stopped me cold by the third line. Before the song was over I’d purchased a download of the album and shut off the radio. Before long I was scouring the Web to find out what I could about this enigmatic singer.

The best way to hear her story is to listen to the episode of WNYC’s “Spinning on Air” David Garland devoted to her earlier this year. Garland had unwittingly been part of a fifty-year quest to find Converse an audience when, a few years ago, the cartoonist and animator Gene Deitch played a home recording of Converse on Garland’s show. He had been friends with her in the Village in the 50s and had recorded a handful of her original compositions. Converse had moved to the city after dropping out of Mount Holyoke, hoping to make her way as a songwriter and performer. Her songs — somewhere between the American songbook of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway showtunes, and what would later be termed singer-songwriter — were apparently too hard to pin down for mainstream record companies. Listening to these recordings, made by Deitch fifty years ago, you can hear the progenitor of Joanna Newsom, Larkin Grimm, and Leslie Feist, but you also hear some of her contemporaries — Shirley Collins, say, or a few years later Vashti Bunyan — and wonder how these songs have remained hidden for so long.

connieconverse.jpgWhen Deitch played Converse on Garland’s show, they inspired listeners Daniel Dzula and David Herman to launch Lau derette Records simply to put out a CD of those old tape recordings. Lau derette is currently working on an album of other artists covering Converse’s songs. (Wish list, wish list! One can only hope Sam Amidon, Will Oldham, Bill Callahan, and Angel Deradoorian may be on there.) They’ve also planned a tribute show at Joe’s Pub for September 5, what would have been Converse’s 85th birthday.   

I’d like to write more about these songs once I’ve had more than a week for them to settle into my brain. It’s a serious body of work that deserves thoughtful consideration and a much, much larger audience than she’s yet enjoyed. Maybe you’ll be part of it.

Stream some of Connie Converse’s songs here.

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Two summers ago, Bryan and I led a faculty seminar on “Multiculturalism, Cosmopolitanism, and Contemporary New York Writing” for NYU’s Faculty Resource Network. Two of the participants recently sent us e-mails telling us how much they enjoyed Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, which was recently released in paperback. One said that she wanted to share with us her “joy in its language, its depiction of the City.” The other said that it reminded her of two of the books we read that summer — Audre Lorde’s Zami and Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn — in its “treatment of New York City as a muse and brilliant canvas.” And she suggested we listen to Terri Gross’s “really enjoyable interview with O’Neill on Fresh Air.”

So we’re passing on the suggestion. Click here to get the podcast from WNYC.

shakespeare_park_2009.gifLast weekend, I waited for twelve hours, first outside and then inside Central Park, for tickets to see the final performance of the Public Theater’s production of Twelfth Night at the Delacorte Theater, featuring Anne Hathaway in the role of Viola. Like many people, I’d put off going to wait on line because of the rainy weather in June, and I’d had no luck with the “Virtual Line” — an online lottery in which (I’m told) about 50 tickets are distributed to each performance. Last year, the friend with whom I typically go see Shakespeare in the Park actually received tickets to see Hair via the “vline” (alas, on a night I couldn’t make it), but generally speaking the odds are ridiculously slim.

I was thwarted twice earlier in the week in my attempts to get on line. On Wednesday, I arrived at about 7:00; the line stretched inside the park from the Delacorte up to the equivalent of about 4 blocks north, making the chances of receiving tickets remote if you were just joining the line. And when a park worker decided to force people to move at the end of the line, which had snaked around onto the bridle path, the ensuing chaos led me to give it up for another day.

I returned on Friday, this time at 5:50 a.m. before the park officially opens, and I discovered that people had been waiting on Central Park West outside the park starting in the wee hours of the night. By the time I found the end of the line, it had grown to five blocks long and around into the transverse at 86th Street. In fact, there were so many people that I didn’t manage actually to join the line once it was inside the park: we were told that the line had reached its “legal limit,” and a police cruiser had parked after the last legal person to make sure that no one else could join. Someone near the front of the line had a cardboard sign that read: “Waiting since 11 p.m. last night.” Many of the people in the front of the line didn’t look like they’d be attending the play: there’s been a brisk trade (conducted via Craig’s List and eBay) in line-waiting for the production. When I checked, people were willing to wait on line to procure 2 tickets for the fee of $150.

It became a point of pride for me to get the damn tickets, particularly when I read some Facebook postings from a friend who had seen the production on “a perfect night.” The outdoor Delacorte is a wonderful venue on a beautiful summer night, set as it is in front of a pond with Belvedere Castle looming in the distance.

Just before I set off at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday night, I checked online and found a posting from someone who claimed to have gotten on line at 9:30 p.m. and was offering his tickets for $250.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s been a while since I’ve written this feature, but the idea is to pretend I’m not such a lazy downtown chauvinist and that I actually notice what’s happening in other parts of this great city — or its blogosphere. So …

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Andrew Kelley contemplates leaving the Shire — er, Park Slope — for the wilds of Red Hook. What part of Middle-Earth would that be? [The Great Whatsit]

I had such a great time rowing in Central Park the other day — a cliche, I know, but an underrated one! Next I’d like to try paddling through the New York Botanical Garden with the Bronx River Alliance. [Bronx Bohemian]

Stranger than fiction department: “A former teen underwear model who
made headlines bedding a second-grade Queens teacher was busted
Thursday for being part of a gang of bandits.” [Queens Crap]

The most neglected green space in St. George, Staten Island [Walking Is Transportation]

Free weekend tours of Little Red Lighthouse and Highbridge Water Tower [Uptown Flavor]

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