holidays

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by Herman Melville

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
The forest-field of Shiloh —
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
Around the church of Shiloh —
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
And natural prayer
Of dying foemen mingled there —
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve —
Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
And all is hushed at Shiloh.

more on Memorial Day poetry here.

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File under: Things I probably won’t see/do in person, given they’re outside my little downtown bubble, and also given the fact that my next two December Saturdays, per long-standing Smith-Waterman family tradition, will be spent in the back room of DBA for their annual East Village neighborhood fair of homemade holiday gifts. But if that’s not your scene, try one of these:

A guide to holiday markets in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. [Markets of New York]

A five-borough guide to holiday lights and shows [CBS]

Another guide, specifically geared toward Astoria. [We Heart Astoria]

Sunday: Bronx Messiah and Taste of the Bronx Food Show. [Bronx Mama]

Saturday and Sunday: Harlem for the Holidays. [Uptown Flavor]

Also Saturday and Sunday: Staten Island Society of Model Railroaders sponsors its annual holiday train show and toy giveaway. [SI Live]

Queens holiday lights photo by Alex Goodwind from the CBS post linked above.

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For the second year running we’ve teamed up with a group of NYC-based bloggers to provide an eclectic holiday guide. Our entry follows. Check out our other participants’ entries as well:

Manhattan User’s Guide: The Gift Guide: 21 Over $21
Markets of New York:
Festive Food at New York’s Holiday Markets

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Since I don’t read right-wing blogs or the L.A. Times with any regularity, I missed last winter’s most pressing political news story: Ornamentgate.

Apparently the noted art critic Andrew Breitbart pointed out last December that one of the White House Christmas trees included an ornament bearing the face of Chairman Mao. Taking this as hard evidence of the President’s deepest political sympathies, Fox news commentators and Tea Party wackos from sea to shining sea pounced like rabid wolves on a wounded reindeer. In response, The L.A. Times’s Culture Monster blog suggested that the whole kerfuffle just proved that Republican pundits make bad art critics: The image on the ornament wasn’t exactly Mao; it was “Andy Warhol’s ‘Mao,’” of course, in which Warhol parodically

transformed the leader of the world’s most populous nation into a vapid superstar — the most famous of the famous. The portrait photo from Mao’s Little Red Book is tarted up with lipstick, eye-shadow and other Marilyn Monroe-style flourishes.Where did the Christmas decoration come from?

“We took about 800 ornaments left over from previous administrations,” First Lady Michelle Obama explained in an earlier press release about getting the White House ready for the holidays, “we sent them to 60 local community groups throughout the country, and asked them to decorate them to pay tribute to a favorite local landmark and then send them back to us for display here at the White House.”

The precise source of the Warhol ornament is not known. But Warhol’s Maos are in art museum collections from coast to coast, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago (whose painting most resembles the ornament image) and both the County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum has several.

Oh, and at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, the National Gallery of Art has 21 different versions of Warhol’s “Mao.” Twenty-one. Wait until Big Government bloggers find out about the Communist takeover of the National Gallery.

Newsworthy? Probably not, though Fox’s Sean Hannity has already this year presented his astute fans with a poll about whether the Mao ornament is likely to be on display again. (Don’t click that link unless you want to tumble down a right-wing rabbit hole filled with bile and used tea bags.)

I discovered this most important of national holiday stories while poking around the Web the other day investigating a trend I’ve noted in recent years: the proliferation of Warhol-designed Christmas paraphernalia. It started with Christmas cards.

You’ve probably seen dozens of cards by Warhol around this season (and in recent years) at hip little book and paper shops without realizing they were Warhol’s.

The site art.com has dozens of Warhol holiday designs available, not only on cards, but also prints suitable for framing, which I suppose you’d store away somewhere for the rest of the year when they’re less seasonably appropriate for your wall space. In New York? Really?

I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising that such items exist. After all, the man was somewhat religious–he went to Mass, especially on big holidays, and he probably had a Catholic sense of wanting nice holiday images around when the season called for it. Plus he worked in advertising, which is where most of these designs appear to have originated. (They date by and large to the late 50s.)

Some of them are fairly traditional, such as “Angel, 1957 (with holly)”; others seem to be cheeky nods at the holiday’s commercial excess, if not at the consumer origins of Warhol’s images themselves. I hope WikiLeaks is on top of this issue: we have the right to know if our elected representatives are sending out holiday greetings using subversive Warhol shoe designs, which could suggest that religion has been supplanted by capitalist commodity fetishism. Imagine!

It turns out that the right-wingers need to chill a little: Warhol’s Christmas designs have been deemed safe by kids-crafts bloggers. I was relieved to find that someone at artprojectsforkids.org was selling do-it-yourself Warhol Christmas tree murals, though I’m not sure how the Warhol Foundation would feel about the copyright issues involved. Grinches.

Then there are efforts that go overboard in the opposite direction, trying to make Warhol into Saint Andy, a Santa Claus for our post-postmodern world. The Guardian‘s design blog, reviewing Warhol’s reissued Christmas images a few years ago, went a little too far down that path:

People who knew Warhol testify to his punctilious generosity in giving well-chosen Christmas gifts. He believed in the American Christmas, just as he believed in Elvis and Marilyn. He knew a collective dream when he saw one. In his 1981 painting Myths, he portrays 10 American icons of the supernatural and the superhuman. Together with the Wicked Witch of the West, Uncle Sam, Dracula and Mickey Mouse, there is a slightly disreputable Santa Claus. It is Rockwell’s Christmas deity who held the boy in his hand, made seedily real. A man dressed up, a store Santa.

In his last years, Warhol’s art suddenly became more personal — although at the time no one recognised it. It seemed logical that he should start a series of paintings based on a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper — in the 60s he had done a Mona Lisa. In fact, by making his own religious art, Warhol was expressing himself. It became public knowledge only after his death that he had been a regular church-goer who remained loyal to the piety of his immigrant mother. He habitually did charity work with homeless New Yorkers at the Church of Heavenly Rest, whose rector recalled that Warhol served food and cleaned up at communal meals — you think again of those lonely soup cans, those generous Christmas cards.

There’s a photograph of Warhol serving charity meals at his New York church. There are no decorations up, but still I see Christmas in it. “It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad …” says the spirit of Marley in A Christmas Carol: walk abroad and touch other souls. Andy Warhol’s does, more than most.

Thanks, but I prefer a Warhol that can be snarky, even at Christmas Mass, one who can poke fun at Americans’ commercial excesses even as he profits from them. Can’t we revive some holiday traditions that preserve a little authentic Warholian spirit (if the idea of an “authentic Warhol” isn’t too much of an oxymoron)? How about annual screenings in Union Square of “****” (otherwise known as the “25-Hour Film”), which includes a 33-minute segment of a 1966-67 Greenwich Village production of A Christmas Carol, staged at Caffe Cino, with Warhol hanger-on Ondine as Scrooge.

Or perhaps we can gather nearby at the site of the Factory or Max’s Kansas City and read Christmas entries from The Andy Warhol Diaries (a great gift idea, by the way). My favorite? Christmas dinner 1976, at Mick and Bianca Jagger’s place on 66th Street, where Mick dished out liberal amounts of holiday snow to guests:

Mick sat down next to Bob Colacello and put his arm around him and offered him a pick-me-up, and Bob said, “Why yes, I am rather tied,” and just as he was about to get it, Yoko and John Lennon walked in and Mick was so excited to see them that he ran over with the spoon that he was about to put under Bob’s nose and put it under John Lennon’s.

Halston and Loulou de la Falaise put a lot of the pick-me-up in a covered dish on the coffee table and when someone they liked would sit down they’d tell them, “Lift it up and get a surprise.” Paloma Picasso was there. Jay Johnson brought Delia Doherty. The dinner was terrific. Mick and Bianca forgot to bring out the dessert, though.

Then again, maybe conservatives should be a little unsettled by Warhol. Let them rail. Do we really want to live in a world where Warhol’s joined forces with Walmart?

p.s. Dear Andy Claus, I wouldn’t complain to find this in my stocking either. But I’d rather you buy it from McNally Jackson than some online megachain.

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Serving a city of 8 million people …

A guide to BBQing in uptown parks on the 4th [Uptown Flavor]

Miss Heather visits 5Pointz and takes snazzy photos! [New York Shitty]

Coney Island Talent Show: deadline to enter is July 16th [Kinetic Carnival]

4th of July weekend at New York Botanical Garden [Bronx Mama]

The Staten Island 4th of July Travis Parade is celebrating its centennial [travisparade.org]

Photo credit: “Scoops,” above, by Miss Heather.

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vintagesubwaysign

Will I get out of my lower Manhattan neighborhood this weekend? Maybe only virtually. But perhaps there’s something here that will be useful to you …

A treasure trove of holiday advice, from 25 Brooklyn gifts for under $25 to borough-specific volunteering opportunities. [Brokelyn]

Meet the Garabedian family, Pelham Parkway’s most decked-out decorators, with updates to follow. [BoogieDowner]

A vintage tea party on the V train to LIC (and more “nostalgia train” dates!). [Gothamist]

Harlem School of the Arts holiday shows today and tomorrow. [Harlem Bespoke]

Santa is expected to show up for Breakfast with the Beasts tomorrow at the Staten Island Zoo. We’re still bummed we missed SI’s singing nun spectacular. Next year!

Nostalgia train photo at top by Zodak via Gothamist.

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City Ham

I’m setting about making a white bean and ham soup, with leftovers from yesterday’s Christmas dinner.

This year’s ham came, I’m afraid to confess, from Whole Foods on the Bowery, a store with which I have an increasingly conflicted relationship (meaning I use it more than I should). The little pig was was tasty enough — I glazed it with brown sugar, dijon mustard, and fig preserves — and I’m sure the remains will make for a lovely soup. But I did feel a little guilty about the Whole Foods thing. While I was throwing about online for ideas about preparing what I’d bought, I made the realization (via this piece from the Times a couple years back) that I should have made my purchase at the East Village Meat Market or another local butcher. Oh, well. Next year. Or maybe I’ll actually go for the traditional goose.

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For more on how ham became a favored American food, see this recent piece by the cultural historian and literary critic David Shields.

And what was on your holiday table?

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Broadcast in December 1948, and starring the same actors as the film from the previous year, a Lux Radio Theatre radio play of Miracle on 34th Street, in seven parts. Part the first:

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santacon.jpgWell, the 2008 Santacon is already two hours underway, but you may be able to catch up with the crowd. They shouldn’t be hard to spot. This year’s red-and-white inebriated spectacle began at 10 am on 33rd St. between 6th and 7th and will rove around that part of town most of the afternoon. You must be fully costumed to participate.

I first witnessed Santacon several years ago by accident. We had a nice view of the Brooklyn Bridge from our old apartment down by the seaport and one morning I woke up to see hundreds of Santas — every size, shape, color, gender, and national origin — parading across the bridge. A sight I won’t soon forget.

If you’re not quite up to that level of revelry, try a quieter drinking experience and buy some locally handmade gifts and treats while you’re at it. The 4th annual DBA neighborhood craft fair takes place at the cozy East Village bar DBA, First Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets, Saturday afternoons in December from 3 pm to 7 pm. (Next week is the last chance!)
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The DBA Urban Folk Arts & Crafts Fair has been central to our family’s holiday experience since the fair’s inception. Its key organizer and sometime DBA bartender — Sacha, aka Stiggly’s Holistics — is one of our oldest friends in the city. She sells her handmade balms, pottery, and holiday puddings. My daughters, each year, have come up with some money-making enterprise or another: their famous sock monkeys (featured in the ad above) tend to sell quickly. Molly makes killer chocolate chip cookies and brownies from scratch and next week will sell a fall’s worth of her own pottery. Anna, who once won our family a four-night, four-star trip to Monaco using only colored pencils, will take orders for custom portraits on greeting cards or for framing. She’s raising money this year for an exchange trip to Paris in the spring.

So if you’re inclined to kick back, drink a pint, listen to good music (I control the iPod dock!), and support local artisans, drop by and say hello!      

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