Archive for November, 2012

Привет, Ivanov!

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It’s always nice to walk into a café and find out it’s a theatre.


Albeit our class had been forewarned, I still found the café to be quite a nice surprise.  It added a very creative, “hipster” ambience to the whole evening, so much so that I felt in the mood for a cup of coffee.


As we walked into the theatre, we were greeted with another surprise: a small theatre with seats on three sides of the square stage, and so close you could see the actors spit (that’s how you know when they get really emotional).


And emotional they were.  The actors, for the most part, played their parts fantastically, so that even when I hadn’t pictured the scene or character in a certain way, I find myself loving the production’s interpretation.


With one exception: Ivanov (Ethan Hawke).  He was annoying, and a whiner, and unsympathetic.  Which is bothersome because, quite frankly, I kind of like the written Ivanov.  I suspect a fraction of my dislike for this Ivanov was due to the different interpretation of Anna (Joely Richardson); I had pictured Anna to be a passive, weak character, similar to Stella from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.   Yet Richardson played a strong-willed, bold, smart woman, making Anna more sympathetic and Ivanov much less so.  Maybe their sympathy levels work in an indirect relationship?  I’m digressing.  Ivanov’s character was not unlikable solely because Anna was a strong character.

Listen, Ivanov, I understand you are depressed, slightly crazy, and possibly an unwilling existentialist, but that does not mean you rant and spit and talk faster than a New Yorker.  You should have the normalcy crack subtly and decay; there should be a loud quietness.  You, dear Ivanov, did not seem like a normal guy lost in a mysterious struggle; rather you seemed spoiled.  Unlike J.D. Saligner’s Holden Caulfield, you did not have any reason for your depression, nor did you have witty commentary on the world.  Unlike half the twisted cast from Narita Ryohgo’s Baccano!, you did not speak with conviction, which turned possibly meaningful speeches into unpleasant rants.  I expected you, Ivanov, to be like Richard Corey, the titular character of A.R. Gurney’s play.  Both of you lead lives with little reason to be unhappy (and illicit lovers), yet you both decay, showing that a “happy” person can become disillusioned with life and break.


Now that I’m done with my own rant, let me applaud every other interpretation.  I have already gushed about the pro-feminist performance of Richardson.  Misha Borkin (Glenn Fitzgerald) was less comical than I had pictured, but he was just wonderful.  I almost wish he and Babakina had fallen for each other.  Shabelsky (George Morfogen) was super wry and sarcastic and great!  I would have directed Shabelsky as a more “big” character (such as this production’s Lebedev or a little less extravagant Dulcamara), but gosh darn it I simply adore Morfogen’s version of him.


There were other characters I would have directed differently, but enough of that; as I director, I am impressed with the entire cast and crew.  In theatre, I have been taught to never turn my back to the audience; but when directing on a stage with which the audience is totally involved, that rule is defenestrated with force.  Even so, I never became annoyed if an actor was not facing me, because the proximity of our seats made up for the odd angles we viewed the actors; the inclusiveness was kept, if not increased.


On to some miscellaneous thoughts:


Seeing the performance, I noticed details I hadn’t in the book: the owl being an omen of bad luck, the Hamlet parallels.  I also noticed more French, which was a nice historical touch because upper class Russians used to speak French.


I believe they added baby powder to Hawke’s hair to make him look older.  By the second act his hair was a couple of shades darker.


Uncle Shabelsky is a count… and if you would like to be a count too, you can buy such a title from the Principality of Sealand!


I like the play a lot.  I hope to see or read it in Russian one day, after I have learned the language.

I Feel Like (A Less Melancholy) Holden Caulfield! – The High Line & Chinatown Strolling

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Flânerie can be understood as the observation of the fleeting and the transitory which is the other half of modernity to the permanent and central sense of self…. It is a way of going on precisely because it is so utterly futile” (Tester 7).


It’s hard to be a true flâneur when one is asked to be; that is, being assigned to walk around the city without purpose, it was at first difficult to let go of expectations and simply walk.  Cameras in hand, I marched forward from the 1 train towards High Line Park.


The High Line

I had never been to the High Line before, although the concept of an “industrial” park interested me; I always imagined it to be very steampunk and gritty, with wiry metallic “plants” and shadows of its former function as a freight line.  My imagination stayed just that, for the reality of the park is less eccentric and more of an elevated walk through the city, treating the buildings like giant sequoias in a large, abstract garden.  The juxtaposition of painted brick building and vibrant grassy ground is a pretty collision of gritty urban structure and the freshness of nature.  It adds more to the illusion of walking through the city as if it were a garden.  The planners of the High Line were quite the innovative bunch; they succeeded in smoothly mixing nature with the city, and then implanting park-goers right in the middle of it, able to enjoy their surroundings without feeling much different from walking along a slow-moving city block.

Bricks & Chloroplast - High Line Park

A view from High Line Park, of High Line Park near 23rd Street and the brick “garden” that complements it.


Formerly a freight line, High Line Park reminds me of what Certeau says: “…New York has never learned the art of growing old by playing on all its pasts” (127).  The High Line’s very being has been mutated from its original purpose; instead of being a freight line, or the rusty old remnants of one, it has become a park.  Not only does this transformation reflect New York City’s ability to constantly update itself, but it makes for a unique park. A pretty awesome park.  Sure, there were no metallic trees, but they still had the old lines running through the park.  These were definitely my favorite part, as they showed the park’s history, and looked pretty cool, too.  You could walk on tracks without worrying about the third rail!

Rails! At High Line Park

Rails at High Line Park. My favorite park of the composition there



I take the F down to Chinatown, refraining from walking there only due to a time budget.  The F lets me off near Straus Square, an area of Chinatown I am not much familiar with.  I figure that will make my favorite neighborhood more “flâneursy” or “flâneurable”.


I love Chinatown.  Like the High Line, it’s a blend, albeit a different type of blend.  Chinatown is a mixing of cultures – those from East Asia and that of America; more specifically, that of New York City. Generally speaking, Chinatown is delicious B grade restaurants, quick walking, beckoning shop keepers willing to strike a deal, food carts selling simple sweets whose aromas fill the air, a lot of honking from the street, lots of talking incomprehensible to me.  Chinatown is also a crowded place.  It has not entirely followed Koolhaus’ proposals of continuously moving upwards (at least in the area of business), but does follow his notion of continuous crowding. It’s the perfect place for flânerie because it’s a good place to get lost in a crowd while still being important.  Every vendor wants your business.  Every passer-by wants their personal space, so you’d better watch where you’re lest you want glares or foreign exclamations.  Even more conducive to flânerie are the streets; unlike the upper West Side, Chinatown is not numbered, so the streets are haphazardly named with tons of back streets and crevices to explore.


There are many artistic aspects to Chinatown.  For one, the calligraphy is appealing, although maybe it’s just the linguistics nerd inside me squealing.  The writing is like water, flowing in each character.  It’s omnipresent; not just on business awnings but on street signs, too.  Another beautiful aspect is the red.  Red is a bold colour, a colour of passion and assertion and, in China, luck.  As I walk through Chinatown, I notice the collective presence of red: red awnings, red font on signs, red good luck charms, red bean paste, and even red, East Asian style shades on the street lights.


Off the F Train & Into Chinatown

Toto, I don’t think we’re at the High Line anymore…
Getting off the F train and walking into Chinatown. Red awnings, calligraphy, food, and crowds of people.

My feet take me someplace new during my travels.  A little place called Kimlau Square.  It is mostly grey and stony, with a statue of an imposing man, and a monument for Chinese-Americans who died for our country.  Although plain and gray, it is as an aesthetic piece; it is simple, balanced, and noticeable in the city maze.


Memorial in Kimlau Square

The simple, solid memorial in Kimlau Square stands out in the city.
Thank you to those who died for our freedom.

I continue to walk throughout Chinatown, eventually finding myself in familiar territory near Mulberry Street.  It is past noon; my journey is coming to a close.  There is only one thing left to do…


Dumplings and a Snapple for four bucks!  Did I mention that when good Chinatown food hits your taste buds, it is the equivalent of your eyes seeing Paolo Veronese’s The Wedding Feast At Cana?


A Final Thought: Snippets

“The flâneur is the secret spectator of the spectacle of the spaces and places of the city” (Tester 7).  I felt like just that: the hidden watcher of the city.  I observed little happenings as I strolled through Manhattan blocks and the High Line, and even in the subway:


I’m on the subway and hear two men talking heatedly in French.  I wish I did not have to get off so soon; I was hoping to catch some words or maybe gush over them.


As I walk from the station to High Line Park, I see a Batman painting on the window of a bakery.  Big Booty Bread Company, to be exact.


At the High Line, everyone is staring at two window washers.  I am staring at everyone.


A model poses for the camera.  A group of friend converse.  A young man sits, lonely.


A little boy uses a bench as a slide.  Clever.  I wish I were that small again.


People watch people as if they viewed are penguins behind glass at a zoo.  But the viewers are the ones in the cage.


Too perfect to see while we’re discussing Beethoven in class.


(Funny thing: After all this, I have to say I kind of did escape my problems for the majority of the time I strolled, although more so in the familiar crowds of Chinatown than the new, less packed High Line.)


“Un mercado de line…”, 1780 – Agostino Brunias

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Basic Facts: “Un mercado de line con un kiosko de lino y vendedor de verduras en las Indias Occidentales” is an oil painting on canvas by Agostino Brunias (1728 – 1796).  The title translates to “A linen market with a linen stall and vegetable seller in the West Indies”.  Brunian is an Italian painter who eventually settled in Dominica.  This painting is in El Museo del Barrio.


Description: “Un mercado…” is a traditional painting, with realistically portrayed subjects and a traditional medium.  There are many components to this painting; it depicts a market scene, which includes people of various races and ages.  There are black women wearing European influenced Caribbean dresses, looking like petit fours, very pretty.  They sit in the linen tent, talking to two fancy-looking mulatto women.  Then there are some Caucasian red coats flirting with native women next to the tent.  Farther in the background is a topless woman carrying a basket on her head. Beyond her a small crowd gathers to watch two teenage boys, wearing nothing but white knickers and headbands, engage in hand-to-hand combat.  In the right foreground, a woman breast-feeds her naked baby as those around her tend to vegetables such as corn.  A green mountain looms in the background, with a faint blue ocean in the left background.

À mon avis: Brunias’ painting is a traditional painting, but, for his time, it did express a unique acceptance of the mixing of peoples.  He portrays Europeans, natives, and mulattos interacting without tension.


The painting exhibits a traditional sense of beauty (realistic features, chiaroscuro, traditional medium of oil, et cetera); however it is the diversity Brunias presents that captured my attention.  It reminds me of Haiti, all the blends we have.  My own family, my maternal side, is a mix of white and black and mulatto; European and African and native Haitians, all living a country where you can munch Caribbean sweets from street vendors or relax in your bungalow or walk on dirt roads, all while surrounded by different sorts of people.  The painting is not urban in reality, but its concept is urban in the sense that there is a huge spectrum of things going on, involving different groups of different people.  I wish I could be there – or should I say, it makes me wish I could be in Haiti, even though it is not.  But it has mountains like Haiti (for which the country was named), and Dominca is also a francophone Caribbean country.  This painting gives me nostalgia and pride for a land to which I have never been.

La famille de Renards
(My maternal family in Haiti a couple of generations ago.)

“Caripito Village”, 1939 – Rainey Bennett

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The Basic Facts: “Caripito Village” is a watercolour painting on paper by Rainey Bennett (1907 – 1998), an American painter.  It is in El Museo del Barrio.


Description: The painting is of medium size, a little bigger than the front cover of a textbook.  Its subject is a small village, near a river of sorts.  A rectangular cluster of huts, slightly towards my left.  A dirt road coming down from the left of the painting and past the middle, until it is cloaked by trees and underbrush.  A woman with a conical hat – a witch’s hat, almost – walks down the road.  Past the plant life is a small, vibrant river or lake, seemingly uninhabited.  A little isle is in it, not far from the banks.  A pregnant woman, naked, stands on the shores of the isle, gazing at the town.  Her hut is behind her.


The colours are bold, bleeding, and inky blues, more blues, blacks, and greens.  The village and a tree have some browns, and the road is sunset yellow and amber.  The “witch” wears a dark cayenne-coloured dress.  The colours are simultaneously soft – due to the brushstrokes and the bleeding nature of watercolours – and vibrant.  Bennett’s painting reminds me of an East Asian ink painting, with its slender brushstrokes and forms. 


À mon avis*: I hated the painting for its deception at first, but as I kept writing I fell in love.


The ambivalence of the brushstrokes – their decisiveness and fragility – is stunning.  The paradox is part of the painting’s beauty; the vivid colours further add to it.  But there are also the details: the stick fence hidden in the bottom left bushes, the sparse cotton ball clouds, the pregnant woman longingly looking over the village… I could write stories about this place, stories about rain and desperation and mythical narwhals and that fungi-yellow Asian tree and each of the women and voodoo and the story of the fence.  For every two houses there is a story.  The painting’s beauty wooed me, but ‘twas the serenading of the expectant stories made me fall in love.


Now why did I hate the painting at first?  For misleading the viewer.


“Caripito Village” is not a traditional Western painting; it seems to be influenced by East Asian art.  The painting depicts a Caribbean village in an unrealistic manner.  The village looks nice, quaint, lush.  It’s probably not.  Bennett depicts the natural beauty and truth, but not the social economic or emotional realities.  The artist does her subject injustice by begetting its problems.  Or is that my responsibility? I wonder.  Maybe she’s just being an artist, and I’m the one who should enjoy the illusion while knowing the truth.

*À mon avis – French – in my opinion