Spring has alighted on New York City, calendar be damned, and over a weekend at that—cloudless blue above, coatless swarms in the streets below. I’m sitting with the window open. Went for a run yesterday, along the East River and across the Brooklyn Bridge, then caught the F train back to my neighborhood. Stopped by
Baohaus, where the cashier had run out of quarters; I traded them my laundry roll and got a free bao in the bargain. Good times.I live in the Lower East Side.
Live is a misleading word—I land here when I’m not away, which is to say I’m here somewhere between zero and fifteen days a month. So days like these are oddly precious: a chance to participate in the neighborhood, or at least playact at participating. To belong to something rooted in geography.Some stuff I’ve been soaking up lately:Dear Companion. Ben Sollee’s project with fellow Kentucky native Daniel Martin Moore is both a gorgeous album (produced by Yim Yames) and a live band that mesmerized Joe’s Pub this weekend. It’s also an impassioned call to end mountain-top removal mining, a practice that lays waste to entire ecosystems in Appalachia. This is what got me thinking about the importance of having roots someplace, being a steward of a land and culture that matter to you—and how one can make good art, even great art, in service of that calling. Ben writes eloquently in the liner notes:>Thanks to Pete Seeger for demonstrating that a music career is about community. Thanks to Larry Gibson for asking, “What are you going to do about it?” Thanks to all the folks at Sub Pop for helping us do something about it. A big thanks to my booking agent, Matt Hickey, for going to bat and finding us venues to spread the word through performance.My time and energy on this project is dedicated to my son, Oliver. I hope we can stop this destruction and hike what’s left of these beautiful mountains… The PBS documentary series New York (part I). By Ric Burns, brother of Ken. Fascinating thesis: from its very beginnings as a Dutch corporate outpost, New York City was a capitalistic, opportunistic place, and its pluralistic spirit has always grown out of the practicalities of commerce. Didn’t know Alexander Hamilton was a bastard from the West Indies, nor that DeWitt Clinton was responsible for both the great grid of Manhattan and the Erie Canal.Samuel Menashe, New and Selected Poems and Anne Sexton, Transformations. So good to have my books back out of storage.Menashe writes by the syllable, his style liturgical and linguistically driven (so says the helpful foreword). I love his fierce devotion to detail, the way the words feel, even on the page:>There is a pillow
On the window sill—
Her elbow room—
In the twin window
Enclosed by a grill
Plants in pots bloom
On the window sill—Samuel Menashe, “Windows: Old Widow” I picked up Sexton’s retelling of Grimm fairytales at the urging of Noe Venable years ago, and it still freaks me out a little every time I read it.>[…] And thus Snow White became the prince’s bride.
The wicked queen was invited to the wedding feast
and when she arrived there were
red-hot iron shoes,
in the manner of red-hot roller skates,
clamped upon her feet.
First your toes will smoke
and then your heels will turn black
and you will fry upward like a frog,
she was told.
And so she danced until she was dead,
a subterranean figure,
her tongue flicking in and out
like a gas jet.
Meanwhile Snow White held court,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes open and shut
and sometimes referring to her mirror,
as women do.—Anne Sexton, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” Voices From The Flood: The People of New Orleans on Hurricane Katrina and Its Aftermath. The proprietor of a French Quarter bookstore recommended this and Jed Horne’s Breach of Faith. Like the Dear Companion project, the strength of Voices lies in its rigor, poetry and compassion—not a protest pamphlet but a faithful documentary. You become indignant all on your own. The appendices—transcripts of federal conference calls, acknowledgment of various reports—are particularly chilling in their innocuousness.WALL-E. Missed seeing this in the theater, but a night in with Netflix on my laptop (and a bowl of homemade chili) made up for it. I don’t know how Pixar keeps batting a thousand—it’s absolutely inspiring, the way they keep telling great stories with fully realized characters and breaking new ground visually all at once. Beautiful and hilarious and incisive and so very melancholy (not unlike its Oscar-darling sibling, UP). The foreign film lover in me almost wishes it ended five minutes sooner, but you have to give the kids a happy ending, I get that.King Arthur Flour recipes. They even have a 1-800 hotline you can call if you’re having trouble. I made a glorious baker’s dozen of their soft white dinner rolls this week, failing to remember that I have no roommates. Do not work in a studio apartment alone with an entire batch of these rolls, folks. Soon there will be only two left and you will be horrified with yourself.
That's me in the middle of the Venn Diagram. http://viennateng.com/