Monday, December 31, 2007
"The funny thing was that you could not, however hard you thought, lay your finger on the moment when the new century would be born. Imogen used to try, lying in bed before she went to sleep. One second you said, "We of the 19th century;" the next second you said, "We of the 20th century." But there must be a moment in between, when it was neither; surely there must. A queer little isolated point of time, with no magnitude, but only position... The same point must be between one day and the next, one hour and the next... all points in time were such points... but you could never find them... always you either looked forward or looked back... you said, "now--now--now," trying to catch now, but you never could... and such vain communings with time lead one drowsily into sleep." (from Told By An Idiot, by Rose Macauley, 1923)
Sunday, December 30, 2007
So, because I didn't get to sing it at church, I will share with you the poem that the song comes from, which is called In Memoriam. It was began after Tennyson's best friend Arthur Hallam died suddenly at age 22 (Tennyson was 24). Tennyson's father had just died less than two years earlier. Comprised of 132 poetic sections, which took Tennyson almost 20 years to complete, In Memoriam tracks the progression of grief and pain felt by the poet, which eventually turns to a hope of the future and faith in a greater purpose to life. This particular section is a plea for the world to become renewed with the turning of the new year, shedding all that is evil and becoming all that is good. This year, in light of recent world and national events, the sentiment is more apt than ever before.
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Christmas is past and gone, for another year! I had a delightful holiday with my family in town. They've just left this morning, and should be arriving home any minute now. We had a wonderful time together, even though I had to work (at my other job, not the housecleaning one). They just wanted to go shopping all day every day, so I let them do that and other touristy things, and then in the evenings we would come back home and eat and play games and watch movies. We played several rounds of Settlers of Catan every night, and now we're all addicted. Christmas Day was the one sunny day in New York out of a week of rain, and that day we never even went outside! We're pathetic, I know.
It was so fun to have my family here! I love them. And it might be a long time before I see my brother again, so it was especially good to see him. I think he and his wife had a good time seeing the city together, except for getting lost in the Bronx at midnight their first night here! But they made it out alive.
My mom and my little sister bought everything they could see--I'm surprised there is anything left in Chinatown! They also visited H&M at least three times. And they took pictures of everything. I didn't inherit that gene--I never take pictures of anything. I guess I should start, so I have something to post on my blog. Well, maybe lil sis will send me some of her pictures.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Then we walked our full stomachs down to 65th street to see the temple, because Helen had never seen it. Next, on to the MoMA, where I finally saw the Seurat drawings that are only on display for a few more weeks. This was a truly amazing exhibition, and I plan to go back and look at it again. Also amazing were the prints of Lucian Freud, which astounded me. And it was so cool because in some instances, they had the big copper plate on display alongside the resulting etching. However, I was taught that you had to bevel the edges of your copper plate or else you'd cut through your paper and your expensive felt pushers, but his edges were not beveled or sanded in any way whatsoever. I don't understand.
After that we went to Chelsea and walked around, like cool people. We had lunch at City Market--more delicious food, including some fabulous chocolate cheesecake. We did some Christmas shopping around there, and then headed over, with the rest of the tourists apparently, to Macy's. We didn't even go inside because the crowds were just too thick, but we looked at the windows, which were so fun--full of animatronic Santas and whimsical dreamscapes.
More shopping was to be had at the Virgin Megastore, and then we headed to Chinatown. We wandered, looking at all the street vendors, funny shops, and vegetable and fish markets. Now I know where to buy my groceries! If only I spoke Chinese, like Sarah. It was so fun to see her talking Chinese with people, especially at the restaurant where we ate dinner. It must be such a novelty for them to have a tall white American girl suddenly speaking Chinese to them. Our Chinese dinner was so delicious, and there were even leftovers for me to enjoy tomorrow for lunch! My fortune cookie said, "A cake awaits you," or something like that.
I didn't come across any cake, but our next stop was in Little Italy, or maybe its more Nolita... We ate dessert at Rice to Riches, a place that ONLY serves rice pudding, in an uber-chic shop with space-age decor and cheeky sayings all over the walls. In dozens of flavors, though, and with different toppings. It was delicious! My flavor was called Sex, Drugs, and Rocky Road, and there's nothing else I need to say about it than that.
By that time, we were so stuffed we could hardly walk, but we continued shopping in the little stores around Chinatown, because Helen wanted to find the perfect church bag. Finally, in one store, Sarah asked if they had a "secret room" and they took us up a back staircase to an attic filled with name-brand knockoffs with huge Chanel, Gucci, and Prada labels. There we found a nice bag for Helen, and laughed at the irony that she was buying a fake for church.
The girls were so exhausted by that time that we headed over to Chrystie Street where they were able to catch the 8 pm Chinatown bus back to Boston. I'm sure they're fast asleep at this moment, on their way home. I'm sitting here waiting for my family to arrive now--they should have been here hours ago, but there's probably a ton of traffic coming into New York. But I can't wait--it's going to be such a fun Christmas week!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
With Christmas coming up, people keep giving me cookies and candy, and I can't help eating it. But its too dark to go running after work, and I can't wake up early to run. So I decided that from now on, since I'm always early to work anyway, I'm going to get off the subway a few stops away and walk the rest of the way. Then, after work, I'll do the same thing and walk to a farther subway stop that will take me home. And I'll try to stop eating the cookies lying around at work and at home...
Yay! My friends are coming!!! I'd better get busy and clean my room.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Anyway, what I really wanted to add to my blog today, and share with the world is that I'm adding two new phrases to my lexicon. (Awwww, that makes me think of my favorite record album in the world, The Lexicon of Love by ABC... I miss it.)
The first is "That's chouette!" You guys probably all took French classes in highschool and will laugh at me, but I think its fun to say the equivalent of "neato" in French, as if I'm so Euro-hip.
My other new favorite phrase is something a big random black guy said to me last night as I walked past him on 125th Street in Harlem: "What's up, Snowflake?" Except he said it in a really deep voice that made it sound more like "Shnowflake." As soon as we got far enough away, my sister and I burst out laughing. So now I'm going to start calling people Shnowflake, though it makes me wonder--what line does he use on girls when its not winter?
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Friday, December 14, Party #1: The Manhattan Stake singles Christmas party. The best thing about this party was that everyone had been preassigned the name of a needy child to buy a Christmas present for, and the idea was to bring the gift to the party to be collected. It was really fun to think of the perfect thing to buy for a little 6-year old girl. The worst thing about the party was that it, like all the stake activities I've been to here, was very poorly organized. Tables were set up so that after you dropped off your gift you could get some refreshments and sit down and talk to other people, but that was the extent of the party. No activities, not even an opening prayer or anything. Still, this party was not without its benefits, because my sister and I had a wonderful time getting to know our home teacher, Mr. Allred, a little better. He showed us how fun it could be to try and stack m'n'ms, and he dared E to pour the bowl of candy that was on the table into her purse and take it home, which she did.
Sunday, December 16, Party #2: The Inwood 3rd Ward singles after-church-minglefest-with-creative-cocoa. Yes, that party title was made up by one of the guys in the elder's quorum. At this party I learned that vanilla ice cream tastes delicious in hot cocoa, but when eaten with chocolate chip cookies from your home teacher when you haven't had anything else to eat since breakfast, you get a stomachache. I'm not complaining--the cookies were delicious, which is why I ate two! And the best part was on the subway ride home when my roommate got out her violin and we sang Christmas carols all the way home in the subway car.
Sunday, December 16, Party #3: Harlem Ward singles Christmas party at our house. My other roommate is in the Harlem Ward, which has its fair share of single adults, who are a very diverse and interesting group. A fair number of them came to this party, for which E and I made elaborate and festive decorations made out of construction paper, including a paper chain that almost stretched the length of three stories worth of staircase. The best thing about this party was the food, which included yummy treats made by my roommate and me, and all the food that the guests brought. But I tried not to eat any of it, because of the my earlier sugar overdose. The other best thing about this party was the people, several of whom I got to know a little better. I must have been in high spirits because E says I was flirting with everyone. I didn't think I was flirting, but I must have been because now I have a Haitian guy who keeps calling me. Still, I think everyone had a great time at our house, because while they ate food and talked, we gave them pretty paper to fold and cut into gorgeous snowflakes, that we could use as decorations on our little tree. Now its really pretty.
Monday, December 17, Party #4: Inwood Singles Ward Christmas Party. This might have been the most entertaining party of all. The Inwood Singles ward is full of talented singers, actors, and dancers, so they all combined to form an unforgettable night of fun. The idea here was to bring canned food for a charity, for which you would get "money" that you could then use to bid with in an auction for services by wardmembers--things like "A dinner for two cooked by Martha" or "a Tuba-gram." The guy doing the auctioneering was better than stand-up comedy, and in between the auctions were performances of holiday songs by different people--all really great. Meanwhile, every table was given the task of building a graham-cracker and candy house, which would be judged at the end of the night for prizes. A guy dressed as Santa, complete with toilet-paper beard, wended his way through the crowd, handing out more money, keeping the bidders supplied. I did a lot of laughing, which was great. And I realized, as I wished people Merry Christmas at the end of the night, that I have made some good friends here, and met a lot of really great people.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
So my first priority is to finish my paper. It's ten pages on the unfinished Thomas Cole painting I found at Questroyal Fine Art. I basically just have tomorrow to finish writing it, because on Friday I'm working a full day at my new job, and the paper is due by 4 pm.
So my plan for tomorrow is to wake up, go take care of one of my part-time jobs, then go to the library and work on my paper, then go to my last class, and then depending on how far along I am, either go back to the library or go home and finish my paper. Somehow it will get finished!
Then on Friday, I will work from 9:30 to 7 at the other job, then go directly uptown to a Christmas party where I'm helping gather and giftwrap toys for children in needy families. It will be really fun. I bought my child a princess story-book, so I hope she likes it! Maybe I can think of something else to get for her too. I was hoping to crochet a cute hat for her, but I don't think time will allow it now, unless a miracle occurs and somehow the words flow flawlesly from my brain, and the paper all but writes itself tomorrow morning. Theoretically, subway rides would be the perfect times to crochet, but only if I can sit, and on express trains seats can be hard to get.
Since I'm telling you all my upcoming plans, I'll just go on and say that on Saturday I will finally get time to clean the house and set up our Christmas tree. My roommates have an artificial tree that we'll put up, and my sister and I will make some cute creative crafty ornaments to decorate it with. I wish we had lots more decorations--it would be so great to have an awesome wreath on the door and beautiful greenery swags on all the banisters. Old houses should always be dressed to the nines at Christmas, but I guess we'll just have to make do with paper snowflakes.
The house will be festive enough for Sunday, when we are hosting a holiday party for a dozen or so guests. The theme is going to be favorite Christmas desserts, and we're going to have people decorate sugar cookies. It's going to be so much fun! I love having people over, and we have a great house for it. Ooh...maybe we should hang up some mistletoe!
Monday night is going to be the third, possibly fourth (I just remembered I might be invited to a brunch on Saturday) Christmas party of the weekend, and it's the ward Christmas party, where we get to reveal our secret santa. Hopefully mine will be surprised. I think she knows who I am already...
Monday, December 10, 2007
I've actually been meaning to write about this on my blog for a while, because I found it so fascinating. But for some reason, its taken until today for it to happen. Anyway, what I'm talking about is the current exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum (my favorite!) which tells a uniquely American story.
In the 19th century as persecution and poverty drove Eastern European Jews out of their hometowns, many of them came to the United States as immigrants, seeking safety and freedom, as well as means to support their families. For most, the easiest thing to do was what you had been trained to do in the old country. For some, this was woodcarving.
I'm not Jewish, and even if I were, I probably would not have realized that traditional Eastern European Jewish synagogues were as elaborately constructed and beautifully finished as Catholic cathedrals. The focal point of the interior was the Torah ark, which was very tall, and constructed of elaborately carved wood in a baroque style depicting symbols that related to the scriptures, Jewish doctrines, and the coming Messiah. The ark symbolized the ark of the covenant that the ancient Israelites carried the ten commandments in, and every Torah ark included a carved depiction of the stone tablets flanked on either side by a magnificent lion. Often gilded, these lions formed the focal point of the interior of the synagogue, where the ark was often placed on the eastern side of the building, in front of a large window, so that light shining through the intricate carving would increase the drama and heighten the spirituality conveyed by the awesome construction. Another motif on these arks was the symbol of two hands forming a traditional Jewish blessing. As sunlight streamed between the hands, it would have been as if God himself were blessing those who stood before the ark.
As the Jews were driven out of Eastern Europe, their beautiful old synagogues were all destroyed, but the talent and skills passed from generation to generation survived and in America, Jewish immigrant woodcarvers were able to create beautiful Torah Arks for their new synagogues. My favorite one in the exhibition is actually from the 1920's and was not only elaborately carved, but fitted with electric lights, so that the eyes of the lions glow a bright red.
America provided new outlets for the talented immigrants: less sacred and more secular in nature. Coney Island became a major amusement attraction in the decades following the Civil War, and was particularly known for its carousels, filled with animals more animated and dynamic than any others in the nation.
These carnival horses were carved by the same men who had been trained by their fathers' fathers to carve Torah arks and other synagogue decorations. Put to a new use, their creativity and talent resulted in fantastically stamping steeds dressed in elaborate saddles and finery, as well as other more imaginative carousel animals, such as lions and leviathans, which directly related to the types of animals found in the symbolism of their religious traditions. These beautiful animals were works of art that worked for a living, providing years of entertainment for the people that came to Coney Island.
The sad part of the story is that eventually Coney Island and other such amusement parks fell into decay and neglect, and with the growth of technology and materials such as plastic and fiberglass, there was no longer the need for hand-carved wood objects anymore. The traditions were no longer passed from generation to generation, as the carvers' children and grandchildren found more modern professions. I think many of the old American synagogues have suffered a similar fate, and as they have been modernized and renovated, their elaborately carved components have been given to museums and historical societies, where, as in the case of the Folk Art Museum, they are reunited with their cousins, the carousel animals.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
The idea of moving into a new place has got my sister and I thinking about what our place needs. If we did have any money to buy anything, or make any sort of improvements, we can think of quite a few. But I decided not to list them, because if I did, you might get the impression that we live in squalor, without even the basics.
So, what else should I blog about... My sister says to blog about kittens. I think she really wants a cat. I would too, if I weren't horribly allergic. Cats are sweet, and kittens are so adorable. I have a friend who was allergic to his cat for a few weeks and then became immune, so maybe that would happen to me. However, I still firmly believe that cats should live outdoors. They are meant to, in order to roam freely and hunt. And who wants cat hair all over everything?
My sister's second suggestion for my blog topic is boys. She wants a boyfriend more than she wants a cat, I think. But its not like you can just go to the pound and adopt a boyfriend. She hopes that whoever drew her name from the Secret Santa hat at church is a cute boy. And when he learns about her, he will fall in love with her and when he reveals himself at the church Christmas party, it will be in the form of asking her out on a romantic date. In fact, I think it would be kind of a cute idea for someone to make a movie about people that fall in love because of a Secret Santa matchup.
E. says there's nothing else of interest to write about besides kittens and boys (except perhaps chocolate), and since I'm just rambling now, in my state of exhaustion, I guess I should just crawl into bed, even though its only 8:45. So much for Saturday night!
Friday, December 7, 2007
Long's house is absolutely gorgeous. It is full of beautiful Victorian antiques and art from his family--many portraits from the 18th and 19th centuries. Five levels include guest rooms, a library, and a huge work area where he works on his costume designs. Everything was decorated festively for the holidays, beginning with the enormous tree in the front window entirely covered with a mixture of delicate Victorian glass ornaments and strings of popcorn. The chandeliers had bright red shades put on them to match the masses of holly-berries and greenery piled up over every mantel and mirror-top. Mistletoe was strategically hung in an archway, and even the mounted deer-heads (I told you--very Victorian) had Rudolph-red pom-pom noses.
But you couldn't really see the decorations because of all the people. I was too busy trying to figure out who they all were, because I knew that some of them just had to be famous. In fact, Lee Radziwill was there (but I didn't realize it was her because I'd never actually seen her before, only read about her in Vogue) and Susan Stroman (also a Tony-award winner, for choreography and directing), whose hand I shook. Caroline Kennedy was invited, but I didn't see her there--shucks! I actually met a lot of people, but I need to learn how to remember names better. I can tell you what jewelry everyone was wearing, but I can't remember any of their names!
The most fun was meeting someone new--usually an elderly, respectable North Carolinian--who would politely ask what I do and why I came to New York. Then they would inevitably ask where I live, and I would say "Harlem." Without fail, there would be a slight pause, followed by something like, "I hear its really quite gentrified now..." Because there's no way a girl like me could possibly live in the 'hood.
We could have stayed at the party for dinner, because although the invitation said there would be refreshments, we didn't realize that after two hours of appetizers proffered by attractive young Russian waiters, a full-scale buffet would be brought out for the guests to feast upon. However, dinner reservations awaited us at Craft Work, a hip restaurant nearby, and we had a lot of catching up to do. So we slipped away from the fun party, and out into the chilly night.
A couple hours later, after a delicious dinner, and walking my friend back to his swanky hotel, Cinderella's magic had disappeared, and I found myself back down in the subway, waiting for the late night train to come take me back home to Harlem. Of course, late night trains don't ever come... at least not until you've listened to the local subway musician play about ten Eric Clapton songs that threaten to put you to sleep while you are simultaneously fighting to stay alert because its midnight and there are strange guys walking around looking at you because you're all dressed up, staring at your legs like they've never seen a woman before. But of course, I made it home intact, and today have been enjoying the memories of the beautiful party.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Audubon was born in Haiti in 1785. He was the illegitimate child of a French sea captain and a Spanish-Creole. When his mother died in a slave revolt, luckily John's father did the right thing and took care of his child. John was raised by his stepmother, who apparently loved him, and formally adopted him.
Audubon went to Paris to attend school. He attended a naval academy, which must have been where he first learned to draw and paint. Watercolors were actually important in the military back then, because they were the best and most easily transportable medium for soldier-surveyors to take and draw their maps with. Audubon claims to have studied art with David, but that is probably just talk. He may have seen some paintings by David, and been inspired by them, but who isn't?
So then the Napoleonic Wars break out and Audubon flees to America with a false passport, to avoid conscription, but he comes down with yellow fever and has to be nursed back to health by Quakers, who teach him their dialect. He ends up in Pennsylvania, where his passion for natural history and birds in particular becomes evident. Apparently, he was the first person to band birds' legs to study their habits.
The handsome young Frenchman falls in love with the girl next door, lovely Lucy, and they marry in 1808. But Lucy soon finds that her new husband either has bad luck or no business sense, or perhaps he is just more interested in art and nature than making money. At any rate, his debts catch up with him and he is sent to debtors prison. It is up to Lucy to raise the money to bail him out, which she does, and he valiantly resolves to make money from his passions for art and the natural world.
You wonder what Lucy must have been thinking as her husband set off down the Mississippi River armed with paints, gun, and camping supplies, vowing to paint every bird in America, and recreate them in a book that will make him rich and famous. Meanwhile, she took her children and found work as a teacher on a Southern plantation.
Audubon probably didn't befriend Daniel Boone, as he claimed, but he did paint the birds of America--so well that he did become famous. It's ironic that he killed thousands of birds to pose them and paint them, yet it is those masterfully naturalistic images that led to the formation of the Audubon Society after his death, which seeks to preserve the lives of birds. Audubon made gorgeous watercolor paintings of every bird species he could find, and when he was done (and with the financial support of his wife), he traveled to England to find a publisher for his book.
In England, he was considered a rustic but romantic backwoodsman, and so became a popular figure. Soon he met Robert Havell, a brilliant engraver and printer, who partnered with Audubon to create "Birds of America" which has been called the most beautiful picture book in the world. It consisted of hand-printed and hand-colored (women did the painting of these prints) life-sized images of hundreds of American bird species, available bound in volumes, or in loose sheets. This secured his fame, and he was able to meet the king and become a fellow of London's Royal Society. Then, back to America, where, with the sales of his book extremely good, and more projects in the works, he was finally able to buy a house and support his long-suffering family.
It's easy for us to look back at Audubon's life now and say that he was a genius artist with an amazing vision, but can you imagine living that life? Or being Lucy, not knowing what the future would hold for you and your children, and your husband off in the wilderness...painting birds? It would take more courage than I have, and someone should make a movie.
Monday, December 3, 2007
1. It might be kind of nice if we went back to the Jane Austen way of calling our acquaintances by their last names. In Pride & Prejudice, it's all Mr. Darcy this and Mr. Bingley that--we never even learn their first names, but there's something sort of mysterious and sexy about that. So my sister and I are going to start referring to the guys we meet by their last names: "Sister, I spoke with Mr. Andros at church today, and he inquired after you..." "How kind! I saw Mr. Taylor at the 125th street station and he invited us to his party this weekend..." I think it will be more sophisticated than our current habit of assigning descriptive nicknames to people, like Nick the Dentist (aka Joseph Smith) and Young Rod Stewart. And more interesting than calling every guy Ben (because there are so many here, if you say Ben, you're right half the time.)
2. The snow is all melted away, but the strangest thing happened today. As I was walking around downtown, I kept seeing fluffy white things floating down from the sky. They weren't snowflakes, because I caught one--it was a seed, like a dandelion seed, fluffy and white. But there were thousands of them. Where were they coming from???
3. I really need a personal assistant, because I forget to do things that I really want to do. I wanted to go to the public library today, and when I remembered, I was already on the express train home. Will I remember to go to the post office tomorrow? Only time will tell.
Okay, that's all the random babbling I'm doing tonight. Time for sleep...
Sunday, December 2, 2007
It's a bit different now, especially in a city. I can't really go sledding down 145th Street, even though its a great hill. Almost as soon as it snows here, the plows are out, the sidewalks are being coated in salt, and piles of brown slush form in the gutters. People still need to get where they're going, and snow isn't going to stop them.
Still, it was a glorious day, with the sun shining on the patches of white. After church, as I came outside and looked at the park across the street, I had to exclaim at the beauty of nature. There, trees were still full with bright yellow leaves, which formed a stunning contrast with the white on the ground and the large brown rocks on the park's sloping hill. I really need to start carrying my camera around with me everywhere I go.
It's the start of many snowy days, I'm sure, and in a few months I'm probably going to be writing about how excited I am that the big piles of snow are finally melting away. But for now, I'm enjoying the beauty of winter. I just need to hurry up and crochet a thick hat with earflaps!