Sunday, January 02, 2011
Elsewhere, at the Knoxville Art Museum, there is an exhibit more tangible. David Bates, an artist from Texas, did a series of monumental portraits documenting the aftermath of Katrina. Here there is no calm immaterial blue, but charred gray and red-yellow eyes and furrowed brows – devastation reflected in muddled flood waters. He began the series while watching the storm unravel on television and then travelled to New Orleans when it became possible to do so.
Both exhibits compel in their own ways. Bates focuses intently on pain while Klein tried to evaporate raw nerves. Both exhibits continue until February 13, if you find yourself in Knoxville or Minneapolis.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Mom passed the haroset around. “We bought a pound of it at D’vine,” she said.
S asked, “Are they even Jewish there?”
“Nah. Syrian Christians.”
“I don’t know. Maybe Lebanese.”
“I saw the owner there. Poor woman has a full beard. Has to shave.”
“Electrolysis is expensive.”
“Take some haroset,” Mom said.
“No, I can’t,” S said. “The stuff is like mortar.”
“That’s the point.”
“It’s from Israel,” interjected Dad. “Taste the figs. Delicious.”
“We bought a whole pound,” said Mom. “Eat more.”
“No really,” S said. “I can’t.”
Later, after getting drunk on whipped cream (S does not drink wine), she explained how in the 1970s she contracted dysentery in India.
“Well, it was four months, and we were trying to stretch $600. Because the man I thought I loved was very frugal. He’d planned to ‘find’ himself before we met--”
“And did he?”
“Well, he wasn’t in India. He wasn’t anywhere. Anyway, he wrote to say how he couldn’t stand to be without me and I couldn’t stand to be without him. So I followed him there. And we travelled to ashrams and ate roadside food and drank chai out of desperation at places that owned two cups that they washed in the same dirty water. We weren’t careful. We slept in ruins, in the off season. June in southern India, too hot for Indians but we’re there, in this dry, horrible heat, until the sky turned black for the monsoons. Sometimes I had to put my foot down and say no to some of these places. A black mattress and no sheets? Once we were at a restaurant and after a few bites of food my head felt heavy.” She lolled her head down and swayed it side to side. “And I felt like I’d been knocked in the head with a hammer, and I said, ‘I have to lie down.’ Luckily, in every restaurant there is a hotel, so we took a room. And I couldn’t stop going to the restroom. Luckily, I was 26 with a lithe Achilles tendon, but I had to hold onto the wall. It was horrible.
“He had grown up in the Dominican Republic, so his intestinal track was built differently than mine.”
Then, for contrast, Guatemala.
“I went to Guatemala with my friend J to help her adopt a child. The husband didn’t go because he couldn't get off work. But I went, because J didn’t speak Spanish. Five days, with a day trip to Antigua. We were so careful about food—only cooked meat and vegetables. We walked through the markets and there was beautiful fruit and we were thirsty, but we held out. Every day, J would spend a bit more time with the baby, an enormous nine-month old, and the foster mother was there too. And then finally, this enormous baby fell asleep in her arms. And they’re in love with the kid, nine years later.”
Later, after the cognac Mom had doused on the fruit salad got to us, we got silly, playing hand tricks that old uncles use to scare small children (got your nose!) and school children imitate in the school yard, giggling, giggling, giggling…
And E told us how, living in the ghetto in a basement apartment once, at age 12, she’d woken up with a little frog in her palm.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
My reading list for the summer was ridiculously unrealistic, then I changed it and it is still ridiculously unrealistic, so there's no point in putting it here. But I will say that I'm reading War and Peace and Suite Française and they make for interesting companion pieces. There's a scene in the latter that refers to a scene in the former, about troops and villagers crossing a bridge (and Suite Française, in case you don't know, is about Parisians trying to leave Paris in World War II), and I got a certain twinge of readerly satisfaction from having so recently read the scene the more contemporary characters were talking about. The same sort of intersection gave me a similar twinge a couple of years ago when I was reading The Travels of Marco Polo (which I still haven't finished) and The Decameron (...also unfinished, for shame...) and both mentioned the same story of an old monk in a cave, this time without making direct reference to predecessors. I love picking up two books, supposedly at random, and finding those connections across centuries. Seeing the reference in the more contemporary World War II novel somehow made the wartime scene in Tolstoy more powerful, for being still relevant, and also had an ironic effect on the character speaking about the scene, who didn't yet experience fleeing Paris and didn't seem to take that prospect seriously.
On that intertextual note, here's another little piece I wrote this past quarter extending the myth of Prosperine. (The extension part begins with "In Hades..." and everything that precedes it is just to refresh your memory about what went down in that story.)
Ceres implored Jove to return Proserpine to her. Jove replied that Proserpine may return, so long as she has not eaten anything in the underworld. But Pluto had given Proserpine seeds of the pomegranate, and she had eaten those glistening seeds, so she was bound to spend part of the year in Hades and part of the year on Earth.
So, the months she spent in Hades became our autumn and winter, full of thistles and bramble and numbing snow. And the months she returned allowed us spring and summer-- cherry blossoms and dogwoods, blackberries and huckleberries and rosy-hued nectarines and black plums.
In Hades Proserpine was dulled by dark winter. Pomegranates, with their juicy red-jeweled, bitter-centered seeds, were still on offer. Pluto sliced open this fruit and offered her a further wedge. Proserpine hesitated, tempted by this momentary distraction from underworld tedium.
“I want you to enjoy your time here,” Pluto said, still struck by Cupid’s quiver, still enraptured by Proserpine. “Please enjoy this fruit.”
“I can’t,” said Proserpine. “I know I’ll be further bound to this place. I know what will happen.”
“I’ll use my powers to prevent it. Longer summers, more lush vegetation. I promise.”
Above, a confused Ceres watched the oceans rise.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Some Hunger Artists Go to Coney Island
Every July 4, across the street from Nathan’s on Neptune Avenue, three emaciated demonstrators sat on the corner in protest of the annual hot dog eating competition. They held hand-painted signs that read “wasteful”, “capitalist sludge”, “cruel”. But they were only three and they sat silently with grim expressions, so it was easy for the boisterous crowd to dismiss them or simply overlook them as the contestants dipped buns into water for ease of swallowing and gobbled them down with dog upon dog.
As their protests were unsuccessful, the competition continuing each year, the demonstrators thought of other ways to show the crowd that their lauding of excess was morally repugnant. They agreed upon an action for the next year’s demonstration that went beyond the previous year’s silent hunger strikes.
“Something spectacular, because the crowd only understands spectacle,” said one.
“Something that also shows our true devotion to the cause, an ultimate self-sacrifice,” said the second. The third, devoted to silence, said nothing. They hoped to permanently mar the spectacle of excess with their spectacle of sacrifice.
The next year, they each arrived on Neptune Avenue with a freshly sharpened cleaver and set up their old hand-painted signs beside them. They’d agreed with one another to be as swift as possible. Shock would be their friend (on a number of levels). At the start of the competition, as the contestants began their gorging, the protesters stood and swiftly lopped off of one another those limbs they’d previously agreed would be sacrificed to the cause. Taking turns, they hurled at the gulping contestants their severed limbs.
Nearby police, who’d always stood guard in case of such displays, whisked away the protesters. And the crowd, though at first aghast, thought it some outrageous joke and clamored for more.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Driving to Portland this past weekend we caught even more spring. So much pink with occasional bursts of yellow forsythia. I couldn't remember a time I'd seen so many blossoms along the highway. Wandering the neighborhoods of Portland, we didn't need to stoop to smell the flowers, their fragrances wafted up to us. The friend we were visiting rasped with seasonal allergies. All the pollen, he explained, was stuck in Portland. The geography did not allow it to blow away. He told us it used to be called the sick place. Too much spring. I was relieved my own eyes weren't bursting with stinging moisture. We saw a play there at the Imago Theater, an "opera beyond words" about an authoratarian typing school, in which the task master (a bit like a business-y, malevolent bride of Frankenstein) skewered out one eye from each typist and hung the ball from its red cords above that typist as he or she sullenly tapped away. We brunched at Screen Door, where M spotted Catherine O'Hara, and then took the streetcar from Nob Hill to the waterfront. Of course we stopped at Powell's; M picked up Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends and I finally got Irene Nemirovksy's Suite Francaise, which I've been meaning to read for a long time.
Now spring break is upon us. We're heading back East to visit friends and family, where their own spring should be just emerging.