Chinese New Year, Dance, Races and Waderings
In the evening Kristina and I delivered a large chocolate cake to Robin at his dorm. We expect that it may have been completely devoured before we walked the mile back to our apartment.
Friday, Feb 15
It is true that they are some glorious Georgia O'Keeffes. But a lot of modernism was a cry out against urban life, industry and the machine. Somehow that seems like the work of such a different generation. Maybe when the Whitney moves into its new home in Chelsea in 2015 it will also join the 21st century.
We went to the Chinese New Year celebration in Chinatown. This is about two miles southwest of us, between SoHo and the Lower Eastside. It is true that the Chinese New Year was a week ago, but apparently the celebrations can go on for a number of days.
It was a blustery and cold day, so we picked our spot on Eldridge Street in the sun. From where we stood we could have been in China. There are far more signs on the shops in Chinese then in English. Many of the people around us were speaking Chinese and I think you could live here your whole life knowing only Chinese. True, it would be a world only a half a dozen blocks wide, but it is a complete community. Even the street signs are bilingual. On that sidewalk most certainly the dominate language was Chinese, but I think this is in part because Chinese from throughout the northeast converge upon this parade.
We could hear the parade before we saw it. The flow of noise snaked its way up those old twisted streets two blocks ahead of the first dragon. Their is nothing subtle about this parade. It is all over-the-top glitz, from the dancing dragons to the sequins sewn into the costumes. White mask and traditional robes on one float with ancient music, followed by a thoroughly American high school marching band, with chinese characters embroidered into their uniforms. Then a float by a neighborhood club with confetti cannons. The street was thick with confetti, it fell like snow during the parade -- a blizzard as the wind repeatedly carried it aloft.
And then Dragons. Most of them were one-person dragons, but some are operated by a crew. The solo dragoneers danced and bounced and swirled and tried to frighten the little kids who stood on the sidewalks, but these kids are made of brave stuff and would only laugh and giggle and reach out to try and rub the dragon's nose. The twenty-legged dragons were equally unruly, swooping through the parade, with waves flowing down their spines, and then out to there long, long tail, usually supported on thin poles or wands.
There were kung-fu schools and boy scout troops, church groups and business councils all marching in the parade -- every one of them shouting and laughing and making as much noise as they could.
After the tail of the dragon at the tail of the parade passed we slipped into a coffee shop to warm up, and them I walked over to Sara Roosevelt Park, where the parade had ended but the celebrations continued. Plenty of vendors were ready to sell me fresh hot spring rolls and who was I to say no. Here I watched traditional family dancing and listened to traditional Chinese music, while kids (wearing Yankee caps) raced through the crowds toting dragon kites. However the day was cold, so soon I took the subway back to New York.
Wednesday, Feb 20
On the river we boarded the USS Intrepid. This is an aircraft carrier from the second world war. The ship now houses a air and space museum with dozens of aircraft and even some space capsules. But I think Owen's favorite part was just the miles of corridors -- the labyrinth of passageways which fill a big ship. Next door was a submarine with even smaller hatches and more circuitous passageways.
We then caught a crosstown bus, met Charlie and after a late lunch Owen headed north.
Thursday, Feb 21
After Manhattan, Staten Island seems positively suburban, small apartment buildings and lots of single family houses and nothing over six stories tall. About a mile and a half from the dock is Snug Harbor. Snug Harbor was established in the 1830s and operated until the 1970s as a retirement home for sailors. It occupies a few dozen acres, a park like campus, populated by solid granite buildings. These old dormitories and workshops now house a hodgepodge of groups. The Staten Island Historical Society maintains one building, next door is a museum of nautical art, behind that a children's museum, gardens and so forth.
When I walked into the first museum I think I startled the receptionist. It is a windy Thursday in February and I don't think she expected to have any visitors. Still, she gracefully set her book aside and told me about Snug Harbor and that museum.
Next door I went into the nautical art gallery where I again startled the staff. Actually they were already full of the "Staten Island Community Chorus". They practiced here every Thursday. As one of the staff told me, "the most talented group who think they don't know how to sing." The director of the museum came and asked me for my zip code, they like to show their sponsors where their visitors come from. I told him that I lived in both Chelsea and New Hampshire. His eyes lit up, "A New Hampshire zip code would be very nice!"
Out back there was a greenhouse crammed full of plants. I think a lot of the plants from throughout the grounds were stored there through the winter. The door was unlocked, the sign was welcoming, but the greenhouse was abandoned today. So I wandered slowly through it, imagining spring, before walking back to the ferry.
Saturday, Feb 23
Sunday, Feb 24
Curiously enough, in the middle of Red Hook is an Ikea. I think if the day had been less blustery we would have walked by it, but by that point we were ready to slip out of the wind for a bit. And then we were in Sweden again. True, the staff were Brooklynites and the shoppers clearly New Yorkers, but the store was designed with a Swedish sense of space and efficiency, including a cafe where they think you would be hungry. They served Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce.
Once warmed we made our way to the most "Hook" part of Red Hook. Hook is a Dutch term for a point of land. On the tip is a Fairway market, a place known for some of the best produce in the city, but now closed from Sandy damage. There is a buzz of activity inside even on a Sunday and they are determined to open next week.
We settled at the "Brooklyn Crab", a seafood restaurant. I think this place would have been hard hit by the storm, except it was build on stilts so you could see over the lower buildings next door and out to New York Harbor. It was warm, the shrimp, fish and chips were good and hot, and the locals were ready to tell us about the high points of the neighborhood, most of which are closed on a Sunday afternoon in the winter.
We will come back in the spring.
Tuesday, Feb 26
Wednesday, Feb 27
Friday, March 1
"He was so linear before he built that thing."
(Do down trodden people spend more time discussing Frank Lloyd Wright then I realize?)
In the evening we went to see a performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company. What struck me was that the troupe was both blessed and cursed by its legacy. Martha Graham was very avant-garde in the 1930-50's, a trail blazer of modern dance, but in an odd sense it seemed a bit old fashion now. The dance was a series of poses, with each position a private language, a cypher which we could read. It was very different from Alvin Alley which was all motion. If dance is a narrative Martha Graham is all nouns and Alvin Alley all verbs.
I was also struck by the fact that the men in the Graham pieces all played the same role and were very two-dimensional. In the first piece the lead male role was the classic greek Jason (of the Argonauts and Golden Fleece). Strong, stoic, rigid. And then in most of the following pieces, the men remained Jason. The women could explode with joy, or wither in tragedy. They suffered rage and love -- but the men were only strong, stoic and rigid.
Actually there was one piece which did break the mold. The troupe recently had commissioned some reinterpretations of classical Graham dances. This one piece I found delightful. It was fluid, a half dozen male dancers connected and intertwined. Like a clockwork machine made of sponge rubber and elastic.
The young woman sitting next to me was enthralled with the performance and asked me what I thought. I told her that I some times think artist mistake "serious" with "good". That, in my opinion, it would not hurt to add a bit of joy and grace to the mixture. She then told me that she was a student at the Martha Graham School. At first I think she was a bit offended that I was not bowled over by the performance. But I think she eventually understood what I was trying to say.
I went up to the Armory Track to see my old high school cross-country coach. He is now cross-country and track coach for the University of Rochester. They are here for the ECAC (Eastern College Athletic Conference) indoor track championships. After a gap of nearly 35 years it is interesting to watch my first running coach again coaching. He is aware of a great many details of running which I never saw as a teenager.
Sunday, March 3 - "Coogan's Run"
Afterwards we ran a long warmdown by the Hudson. It is windy, but sunny. Then we cheered the daughter of a teammate who was in the children's race. I think that eight year old girl was astonished to have such a large fan club - 20 of us in orange.
The team then reconvened at the Harlem Tavern for brunch. Harlem has been very gentrified and matched none of my 1960s-70s based preconceptions. The Tavern, a restaurant with a sports bar at one end, is full of a whole spectrum of people. I talked a long time with Nicole, a teammate who is also a personal trainer. It is one of those jobs one hears about but never really puts a face on. She was disappointed in her performance and was thinking about how to describe it to the athletes she works with -- especially those who were also in the race.
Monday, March 4
Tuesday, March 5
Friday, March 8
Saturday, March 9
One studio which struck a cord with me was showing large paintings of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. This is an accelerator like where I use to work only much larger. The artist had drawn detailed, almost blueprint quality drawings of the machine on one side of a semi-transparent mylar. He then splashed color on the other side to create a sense of the reaction going on inside of this machine. I especially enjoyed hearing how he explained the exhibit -- and what is a Higgs boson -- to the visitors. He said that one thing which had attracted him to this topic was that these experiments represented massive collaborations.
That evening we went to Caffe Vivaldi where we heard Kristina Hoffmann sing -- a golden voice. Afterwards I got talking to the Caffe's owner, Ishart Ansari. He was telling me that he had been in court recently, a dispute with his landlord about access to the basement. He told me that his landlord had a table full of very expensive counsel. On his side he had caffe patrons who had volunteered to represent him. And they won!
I have always thought that Caffe Vivaldii looked like something out of a Woody Allen movie. So later, I was looking up Ishart Ansari -- trying to figure out how to spell his name, when I came across a photograph of him with Woody Allen at the restaurant. Apparently Woody Allen and Al Pacino have filmed three films there; Bullets over Broadway, Whatever Works, and Chinese Coffee.
Tuesday, March 12
Wednesday, March 13
Thursday, March 14
Saturday, March 16
Sunday, March 17