Thursday, July 31, 2008

The World Stage: Africa at the Studio Museum

Kehinde Wiley paints almost life-sized portraits of young black men, mostly anonymous but occasionally famous, in their street clothes, posing against richly colored backgrounds. The catch? He usually asks his subjects to pick a pose from a painting by an Old Master. In the exhibition currently on view at the Studio Museum, he had his subjects in Lagos and Dakar mimic the poses of famous local statues. It’s a somewhat simple formal template that yields richly layered, utterly unique work.

Making the Wire

Last night we went to Making the Wire, a panel discussion about, well, what went into creating arguably the greatest television show ever made. David Simon was there, drinking a Pepsi, as was Seth Gilliam (Carver), Wendell Pierce (Bunk), Clarke Peters (Lester), Clark Johnson (Gus), and Richard Price. The first question was about how the show treats its audience, and whether Simon really believes his oft-quoted credo: “Fuck the audience. Fuck them to hell.” He does he said, in the sense that no one wants, or should want, the casual reader or viewer; instead he wanted the show to inspire passionate, edge-of-the-seat engagement.

This connection between reader and viewer wasn’t coincidental. In their praise, critics often called The Wire “Dickensian” and “Shakespearean,” likening it to great--in multiple senses of the word--tragedy. Simon praised Price’s “Clockers,” the novel that started it all by doing “for the inner-city drug trade what Steinbeck did for the Dust Bowl.” Like the novel, the show explores the moral complexities of issues, including the drug war and No Child Left Behind, by constantly shifting the point of view through its wide range of fully fleshed out characters. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading right now and go rearrange your Netflix queue. This post will be here after you’ve watched all 60 hours.

The actors told stories about what it was like to film with actual Baltimoreans, including asking corner boys to please give up their corner for a shot. Another day, the crew heard gunshots, so naturally everyone paged through the script, looking for the scene; the shots, however, turned out to be real. And Wendell Pierce spoke at length about how the show’s plotting let the actors themselves become fans of the other story lines. Leave it to Price, though, to keep the lovey-dovey hyperbole in check: “Everyone uses the word Dickensian . . . I don’t know. I mean, whatever.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ronnybrook Farm Ice Cream

For years and years, dairy was a mainstay of New York State, but with the rise of factory farms and giant dairy conglomerates, the single-family dairy went the way of tickertape and typewriters. But the products these mega-dairies produce don't sit too easily on the stomach when you think about how milk from cows across the country, cows that don't even live in the same ecosystem let alone the same pasture (or feedlot, more likely), is blended together to produce whatever formulas taste engineers have concocted. In a word, ick.

But Ronnybrook Farm, a family dairy in Ancramdale, New York, keeps the old traditions alive. All of their milk and dairy products come from a single herd, sharing pastureland, eating grass, and keeping the Hudson Valley alive with the sound of mooing. While their products are sold in some stores in the city--including their own shop in Chelsea Market--what we love best is the sight of the Ronnybrook stand at the Greenmarket, where New Yorkers patiently wait to return their glass bottles and pick up next week's delivery. Well, ok, we love that second-best. What we love best is the delicious ice cream they make, thick and frosty and full of flavor.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cantaloupe and Blueberries from the Greenmarket

Sunday's breakfast. Delicious!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Eleven Madison Park

We're in the midst of Restaurant Week, and our first stop was at Eleven Madison Park, Danny Meyer's haute cuisine homage to Art Deco New York on the edge of Madison Square Park. As at all of Meyer's restaurants, the service here is impeccable--first-timers are coddled and regulars are treated like returning war heros, with handshakes and long conversations about what's happened since they were last in. (The man sitting next to us and the sommelier compared extensive notes about recent trips to the French Laundry.) The space is grand and soaring without being overwhelming, a balance they strike through copious flowers and comfy, oversized chairs.

We had salmon escabeche with asparagus, apricot and prosciutto salad, lamb sausage, and skate with cauliflower, and ended with chocolate custard and cheesecake, all terrific. Having food this good in the middle of the day feels indulgent and decadent, but being able to do it for only $24 a person restored our sense of virtue enough that we were able to go back to work, if a little reluctantly.

Photo: thanks

Monday, July 21, 2008

Action/Abstraction at the Jewish Museum

Binaries drive Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976, beginning, obviously, with the title. Critic Harold Rosenberg praised American painters like de Kooning for their “action,” the literal, physical movement of making paint move across a canvas (a physical concern). His rival Clement Greenberg prefered people like Pollock and favored the term “abstraction,” which denotes a way of dealing with the flatness of the painterly plane (a formal concern).

The Jewish Museum makes it all so much less confusing by organizing its show into various pairs of painters, one favored by Rosenberg, one by Greenberg. Clearly written labels help orient viewers too. (Think it’s weird that we’re praising labels? Go take a spin through the New Museum or most galleries in Chelsea and get back to us.) One of us liked the Stills and Hoffmans and Newmans (above, White and Hot [1967]), and the other just liked being there. That’s the beauty of binaries.

Photo: thanks

Saturday, July 19, 2008

J.M.W. Turner at the Met

The huge Turner exhibit at the Met features paintings from every stage of the artist's career, from his earliest entries to the Royal Academy at age 15 to his late watercolors, considered by many contemporaries to be "the fruits of a diseased eye and a reckless hand." Lucky for us, a posthumous exhibit in 1906--as well as a big push from critic John Ruskin--saved his work from landscape obscurity.

Turner is best known for his incredible use of light; these paintings are so lit from within you could read by them in a dark room. Many of the works portray maritime mishaps, especially ship wrecks. At times the skies are as carefully crafted as the ships and their tiny, tormented sailors, as in Fishermen at Sea (1796). In Peace-Burial at Sea (1842), his rigor is contained to a single idea--grief--relentlessly pursued through the painting's unfathomable blackness. Other paintings, such as Ulysses, Deriding Polyphemus, Homer's Odyssey (1829), depict a sky full of telescopic wildness, a messy, sharply three-dimensional vortex of color. Few people who have seen the world look this way have come back to tell us about it.

Photos: thanks, thanks, and thanks

Thursday, July 17, 2008

O'Hara at MoMA

What better way, MoMA thought, to celebrate the publication of a new edition of selected poems by Frank O’Hara than to host a lunchtime reading? Rumor has it that O’Hara wrote many of his most famous poems at a typewriter shop while on his lunch, a break from staffing the information desk at the Museum of Modern Art.

Yesterday a group of contemporary poets read some of O’Hara’s work, along with a poem each had written that derived from or responded to one of his. Hettie Jones read “Personal Poem,” “Walking to Work,” and “Steps,” then finished with her “Lunch Poems.” Vincent Katz selected “For Grace, After a Party” and “Having a Coke with You,” then read his “30.” Philip Schutlz’s “Why I Am Not a Novelist” responded to O’Hara’s own “Why I Am Not a Painter.” And so on.

Lee Ann Brown’s sort-of-stilted reading of “Mediations in an Emergency” did nothing to temper the poem’s most powerful lines:

However, I have never clogged myself with the praises of pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of perverted acts in pastures. No. One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes--I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life. It is more important to affirm the least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and even they continue to pass. Do they know what they’re missing? Uh huh.

In the background, trucks honked and trains rumbled, children shouted and adults clucked over the heat and the Picasso sculptures--practically the same sounds O’Hara would have been hearing as he wrote.

Photo: thanks

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Macbeth at Battery Park

Last night we attended a performance of Macbeth put on by New York Classical Theater, one of the hidden gems of off-off Broadway. Led by the enthusiastic Stephen Burdman, the company brings plays to the widest possible audience via free environmental theater, using the grass, trees, monuments, and other spaces of Central and Battery Parks as backdrops. As the play moves from scene to scene, so does the audience, running after the performers.

As the sun set over the Hudson, Macbeth heeded the prophesy of the three witches -- and left a trail of blood from Castle Clinton to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Macduff's anguished speech upon hearing of the deaths of his family took place within the monuments to New York's war dead; as he lamented the coming of tyranny to Scotland, darkness fell on the harbor and the lights on the Statue of Liberty came on. As we listened to Lady Macbeth's "out damn spot" monologue, we occasionally cut our eyes to Olafur Eliasson's waterfall in the distance. People stopped jogging and fishing to watch, as transfixed as the audience crouching silently beneath the actors, ready to spring up for the next move.

Photo: thanks

Friday, July 11, 2008


Eighteen years ago, long before locavore entered the lexicon, Peter Hoffman opened Savoy and started a revolution in the way New York diners eat and think about food. In his warm and inviting two-story restaurant in Soho, Hoffman devoted himself to serving simple but carefully crafted cuisine focused on local and seasonal ingredients. Making full use of the then-nascent Union Square Greenmarket, Hoffman showed New Yorkers that heirloom tomatoes and asparagus from New Jersey, duck from Long Island, and peas from Upstate New York could be turned into straightforwardly delicious meals without any exotic additions or esoteric preparations. Along the way, Hoffman--as a Union Square fixture in his recumbent bicycle--helped the Greenmarket to thrive and inspired legions of disciples who have transformed countless New York kitchens into temples to the region's bounty.

Now, Savoy has settled into a kind of happy middle age. There are flashier restaurants, as well as ones that accompany their devotion to locality and seasonality with greater fanfare, but Savoy hums along. The kitchen turns out honest dishes like Arctic char with snap peas and roasted chicken with asparagus and leeks, and the dining room attracts a discriminating crowd: on a recent visit, we saw artist Chuck Close holding court at one of the ground-floor tables. The revolution has become the orthodoxy, but it's as seductive as ever.

Photo: thanks

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Five Years

Five years ago today, we landed in New York, fresh from 2948 miles of driving with Allo on the dashboard of our Ryder truck. Our broker described the popularity of pot-belly pigs as pets; our Russian movers broke our toilet, briefly traumatizing our cat; our bank teller told us that "there are 8 million stories in this city, and all of them are complicated." Our story, though, isn't that complicated: we came here unsure of so many things---and, really, not a day has gone by since that we haven't, even in the most unpleasant of circumstances, been glad we did.

Post No Bills

At the makeshift Gallerie Pulaski, in LIC, work by local artists hangs on the plywood surrounding the construction site of a new condo building.

Friday, July 04, 2008

DIY Displays of Democracy

The other day, as we returned some library books--and paid our $0.25 fine--we noticed that the elderly librarian working the counter was wearing a great big button. "America's First Family," it read. She had made it herself, using a photo of the Obamas she had cut out of the newspaper.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Love him or hate him, Mario Batali has reshaped Italian cooking in New York. While there were a handful of restaurants in the pre-Batali era devoted to authentically Italian food (as opposed to Olive Garden-style Italian-American cuisine), no one before him combined skill in the kitchen with so much panache outside it. Batali's distinctive appearance, outsized demeanor, and infectious enthusiasm for all things edible make him a media whirlwind, it's true, but they also make eating well seem not merely fun but downright life-affirming.

For us, this culinary joy is best embodied by Lupa, the Roman trattoria in Greenwich Village. With an in-house salumeria and a menu full of classically Roman dishes like bucatini all'amatriciana and carciofi, Lupa would be at home in Trastevere or Testaccio, but its frantic energy and slightly disheveled up-all-nightness make it quintessentially New York. We can't get enough of the salty bread and olive oil, or the cappellacci with asparagus and ramps, or the ricotta gnocchi with fennel and sausage, or the proscuitto, or the asparagus pecorino, or--you get the idea.

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