Sunday, December 27, 2009


WKCR's annual Bachfest has reached day seven, & runs until December 31. Always a pleasure at this time of year. I love the WKCR tributes, like this year's August celebration of Lester Young & the yearly April 7 Billie Holiday commemoration. In 2005, to celebrate her 90th birthday, the station played non-stop Holiday for two weeks, including a memorable, multi-version marathon of All of Me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Without Camera, Other Images Must Suffice

Camera malfunction this weekend. Here's a photograph of a building (the oldest part of the current Bodleian Library, originally the Divinity School) right across from John Donne's college, Hertford (then Hart Hall). Breathtaking.

The Shortest Day (December 21st)

by John Donne

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know ; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love ; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Depressing Christmas Songs II

Over at The Dish, Christmas videos are coming thick & fast. A reader sent in Joni Mitchell's River (one of my favourite Mitchell songs & not one I can snigger at), & there's also a scary Dylan Christmas song (from his new Christmas album, I assume). The Dylan song is disturbing rather than depressing, & Bob's get-up is especially creepy. Someone deconstruct this one please.


So today I've been trying to check up on the fate of the B77. The Times did not list it in the roster of service cuts approved by the MTA yesterday, but the Brooklyn Paper did. I called Jim Brennan's office, but they weren't sure about the 77, & a 311 call resulted in no information whatsoever. The MTA offered no news on their website, & no help by phone (a "look on the website" response from a general operator & a transfer to a higher up admin. number where no-one picked up). The folks at Brooklyn Borough Hall were much more helpful, & returned my call within a few minutes! The B77 situation seems to be a bit of an enigma, but apparently the 77 may well not be on the hit list & may be something of a high priority to protect if it is. The IKEA connection gives it quite a bit of clout apparently (business ever more important than residents), so this is good for Red Hook bus riders. Many thanks to B. Borough Hall for their quick response - I'm hardly a Marty fan, but this was very good consumer PR. I hope to get to a Brooklyn public forum meeting on the proposed cuts, whenever this may be.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Depressing Christmas Songs

The Dish picked up on Buzzfeed's 10 Most Depressing Christmas Songs . The collection is growing, as more & more songs of gloom are being added. I liked Merle Haggard's If We Make It Through December a lot, & the Charlie Brown Christmas song is certainly melancholy but Dolly Parton's Hard Candy Christmas may just beat the competition. What a classic.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

MTA Cuts

I'm assuming that many of the MTA's proposed service cuts won't actually happen, but I'm very nervous about the planned elimination of weekend service on the B77. The 77 route begins/ends just a hop, skip & a jump from my house & I use the bus regularly. I feel very lucky to have it close by, & to be able to get to Fairway, get down to the waterfront etc. so easily. It's a city pleasure & a real boost to my quality of life. For many Red Hook residents though, given their limited transit situation & meagre retail choices, it's a vital resource, & it would be callous in the extreme if the MTA cut back this route. Tons of people come in from R.H. to shop around Fifth Ave. & use other services in the neighborhood, & taking the route away at weekends is absurd. The 77 is also an important link from Red Hook Houses to the subway system at Smith & 9th. Given that the Smith & 9th Station will be soon temporarily closed for repairs to the Culver Viaduct, the 77 will become an even more important means of getting to to the (distant) subway stops at 4th Avenue, as well as to other bus services. How far are people expected to walk for transportation? I can't believe the 77 cuts will happen, but who knows? Contact your local reps. & voice your concern.

London Calling (The Clash)

Released thirty years ago this week:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Films I Don't Want to See

Which two upcoming films make me distinctly queasy? They're the work of two of my least famous directors, that talentless pseudo chav Mr. Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes) & the tediously ever-gothic Mr.Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland). Everything I've seen about these films irritates me, from the casting (Downey & Law as Holmes & Watson, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter) to the liberties they take with plot, characterisation, & in the case of Alice, visual integrity. I actually like Downey, in the kinds of roles befitting his manic energy, but he's completely mis-cast as Holmes, & pretty Jude Law is the least likely Watson I could think of. As for Johnny Depp, in another elaborate Halloween costume, Lord save us... When will this overgrown child ever put aside the dress up clothes & make an extended attempt at real acting? I'm particularly upset by the Burton film. Conan Doyle's work is enormous fun, but no literary masterpiece. Carroll's Alice, on the other hand is one of the oddest & most brilliant curiosities of English literature, & should be treated with intelligence & insight. None here, I fear. Just to cheer myself, up I'm linking to The Guardian, where Catherine Shoard makes short shrift of the Ritchie mess.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Seasonal Music

Posting the Sutphin Boulevard Christmas greeting made me decide it was time for some seasonal music. Despite my non-believer status, I still love a good carol, & I put in my time at many a church service in my youth. In our house we are somewhat obsessive about Good King Wencelas: it's such a little drama of a carol (can't you just picture the frame of the peasant & Saint Agnes' fountain as you hear it?) & the king/page dialogue is a delight to listen to & even better to sing! It inspires a lot of affection, & a certain amount of frivolity & the lyrics ("mark my footsteps, good my page"; "heat was in the very sod"; "where the snow lay dinted") are very satisfying indeed. This video is rather blurry, but the page is a treat. Good King Wenceslas: The Movie - I think it's a distinct possibility, & I'm only half joking ...

On the Way Back from Work

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Fashion Scene in 1663

Velvet is in again right now & in 1663 it is also a hot item. Samuel Pepys (that dedicated follower of fashion) wears his velvet lined cloak to church on this day, 1663, along with a new hat, a spiffy suit & black "silk knit canons" (?). He's pretty peeved to see Lady Batten dressed in a velvet gown, & wishes Mrs Pepys had beaten her to it. Stinginess, however, stifles his desire to outfit his wife in that luxurious fabric too, even though he has the nerve to discuss Lady B's frock with her when he gets home. Later, he criticizes her cooking (the boeuf a la mode not up to scratch) & reflects on his excellent economic situation & the "good many" fine clothes in his possession. Cheap bastard...

Obama's Record So Far

To counter those Obama naysayers, Jacob Weisburg, at Slate, argues that Barack Obama has had the most accomplished first year in office of any president since FDR.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Safran Foer

It seems to be the week to give Park Slope writers a good dressing down. The Dish links to a piece by Betsy Phillips, on book marketing. She starts with her reaction to Jonathan Safran Foer's promotional video for his newest book, Eating Animals:

A novelist establishes that he lives in Park Slope, in Brooklyn, and that he is a douche who French-kisses his dog. He has a grandma and thus decided to write a book about meat, which is not really about meat; it's about family. The video literally starts out, "Oh, hello," like we've all for some reason decided to go to Jonathan Safran Foer's house and startle him in his study. It is a trailer that will make you want to immediately go to the bookstore and punch his book, on principle.

It is pretty annoying...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Auster Considered

At the New Yorker, James Wood is spot on in his review of Paul Auster's work. Savage stuff (too savage perhaps?), but true, true, true ...

Regular Updates

The brouhaha at Cafe Regular & its northern relative is still a lively topic online. Only the Blog ... & Grub Street have both been reporting on the reasons for Martin & Richard's departure & the planned "updates" for the original cafe. Frankly, I can't see why uniforms (?) & computers would improve business at this small haven. Just what new customers are these changes aimed at? I think they're more likely to drive people away, & I certainly plan to avoid the place. Du Nord looked beautiful when it opened & seemed like a promising spot(side street cafes have a pleasant air of seclusion lacking on the avenue), but the last couple of times I was there (& I'm not there that often) the staff seemed pretty fed up & the atmosphere wasn't the best.
Enough whining from me about this, I think. Perhaps the loyal supporters of C.R.can develop some radical plans of their own. Any suggestions?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Martha on Sarah

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Martha. I like her barely concealed condescension for her audience & that air of snotty snippy camp far more than Oprah's faux oneness with her viewers. And the poncho knitting in jail was quite appealing. Anyway, here's Martha on Sarah P. (found via The Dish):

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Fine Shade of Red

Not the Same at Regular Any More

I was running late for work on Friday, so was around when Martin, at Cafe Regular, was opening up shop. He said that it would be his last day - something about a disagreement with his sister. What a loss for the neighborhood. Even though the cafe will remain open, it will be a diminished place without his dry, ironic presence. I remember going in there six years ago, when the place first opened, on a bitterly cold day nothing like today's, & feeling so glad that such a civilised refuge (good coffee, warm cocoon of a space, eclectic periodicals, Martin's gloomy wit)was just around the corner from my house. I liked all the photographs decorating the place, including a younger, seated, smirking M., & a pig trotting up a ramp into an airplane. He gathered a devoted crowd of customers around him & will be missed horribly. And what's he planning next? Some plans to travel, it seems - he claims to be off to Sweden to live on welfare. Yes, well ... Let's hope he's back with a business venture soon.
Footnote: What about Cafe Regular du Nord, run by his brother? Is this separate from the deal on Eleventh?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hitch on Continetti/Palin

Hitch on Matthew Continetti's new book The Persecution of Sarah Palin & the "Palin problem". Via The Dish, where Andrew Sullivan has been closely following her appearance on today's Oprah. I must say that Oprah's decision to have her on the show, though not surprising, really reduces my already very limited respect for La Winfrey.

Flatbush Ave.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sixth Street

I like this doorway on Sixth St., just off Fifth. It has plenty of attitude - it's damned if it's going to let you see what's going on inside - & likes acting tough. There's a vague, Francis Bacon-esque brutishness. I see a lot of people nipping in & out of here & am tantalised.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ground Grippers

I had to make a quick stop at the Mid Manhattan Library late this afternoon. Heading downtown afterwards, with the weather wet and gusty, I was happy to come across this shoestore(39th between 5th & Madison). If it hadn't been so windy, and if I hadn't been made slightly self conscious by the palm reader sitting just out of the picture, I would have tried to take better photographs. Side streets offer up treasures.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Yes, I know this is an old video (been around for almost a year) but it still makes me laugh, & I declare it a classic. It's a good lighthearted antidote to that middle of the week malaise, & is quite an interesting contrast to the Bushwick video. It seems to be a bit erratic on youtube, so I hope this will keep working.

Devil's Rebels

Gothamist finds a period piece, a 1976 NBC story on The Devil's Rebels gang in Bushwick, with a young Brian Ross reporting.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Here are the Holbein paintings of the main protagonists in Wolf Hall (two of which you can see at The Frick). Hans himself pops in and out of the novel. I finished the book yesterday, & feel a bit bereft. Apparently there's going to be a sequel, but I fear it might be a disappointment.

Intelligence Squared Debate

Finally up on youtube! Here's Part 3, with Widdecombe & Stephen Fry. Hurrah for Stephen Fry. Hitchens is always a guilty pleasure, but Fry is beyond reproach.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Wolf Hall

This is a marvel. Mantel has a fine, clear, prose style, rich in sensuous detail. You read slowly (a relief from your tendency to race through novels), because you want to make every word last, & because you want to linger for as long as possible in the Tudor England she conjurs into being. The novel is pitch perfect. It's the kind of novel I will re-read almost immediately. At the heart of it, I think, are memory pictures, & the novel itself is a collection of sharp, resonant images. along with peripheral, half glimpsed ones that haunt the spaces at the edge of your vision. Yes, yes, I enjoyed Byatt's novel,& her ninteenth century novelistic tradition, but there is a sort of narrative clunkiness with her work that you have to overlook, or develop an affection for. No allowances necessary with Mantel - she's in a different league altogether. How a couple of weeks changes things.

Madison Ave.