Sunday, January 31, 2010

National Trust

Here's a poem from the 1970's collection, The School of Eloquence, by Tony Harrison. The collection is prefaced with a quotation from E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class:
"In 1779 special legislation was introduced "utterly suppressing and prohibiting" by name the London Corresponding Society and the United Englishmen. Even the indefatigible conspirator, John Binns, felt that further national organization was hopeless...When arrested he was found in possession of a ticket which was perhaps one of the last "covers" for the old L.C.S: Admit for the Season to the School of Eloquence."

National Trust

Bottomless pits. There’s one in Castleton,
and stout upholders of our law and order
one day thought its depth worth wagering on
and borrowed a convict hush-hush from his warder
and winched him down; and back, flayed, grey, mad, dumb.

Not even a good flogging made him holler!

O gentlemen, a better way to plumb
the depths of Britain’s dangling a scholar,
say, here at the booming shaft at Towanroath,
now National Trust, a place where they got tin,
those gentlemen who silenced the men’s oath
and killed the language that they swore it in.

The dumb go down in history and disappear
and not one gentleman ’s been brought to book:

Mes den hep tavas a-gollas y dyr

‘the tongueless man gets his land took

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"A Republic, If You Can Keep It"

Try reading this excellent Andrew Sullivan piece, on Obama last night, and the state of the nation. It's the kind of thing we need to bolster our spirits.


From today's Dish

Quote For The Day II
“I hope to hell that when I do die somebody has the sense to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody," - J.D. Salinger.

Salinger lived near good friends in Cornish, NH, but I only saw him once, years ago, driving fast down a dirt road. The car was going too quickly for me get a very good look, but the face I glimpsed was certainly not a happy one.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Brooklyn Bus Routes

Brownstoner links to the MTA watchdog blog 2nd Ave.Sagas, where you can find details of changes to several local bus routes. Alas, the B77 is to be no more - it will be incorporated into the B61 & extend into Windsor Terrace. The B75 will also disappear, but some of that route will also be taken over by the 61. From a selfish point of view, I'll still be able to hop on the 61 bus close by, & I won't mind the bus going further along Columbia Street & into downtown Brooklyn. I'll miss having the route start on my doorstep though. I could always get a perfect seat & this felt pretty luxurious. Casting aside selfish motives, it's pretty crappy that these changes are going into effect. Anyone taking the old B75 route now has to take two buses to get to Cobble Hill, & if you're elderly, it's harsh stuff. Ditto the reduction from two Red Hook bus routes to one, which will make Red Hook transportation more meagre & crowded than ever. Shabby treatment.

This Is Not A Wal

Monday, January 25, 2010


How awful to have been without a computer. I'm very grateful for all the set-up/recovery help I got with this new laptop, but I'm going to be pretty lame on it until I get used to its new ways & recreate my enormous favourite list. I am horribly disconcerted ... At least I read a lot in the last few days, finishing off Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, & getting about halfway through Nothing To Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes. Hmm ... I am still resolutely in the Question of (no) Faith mode. Both books are highly recommended. Hirsi Ali gives a clear look at the treatment of women in traditional Islamic societies, & Barnes' book, on faith & death, is enormously funny & quite consoling.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Shutting out the Day

I have so little faith in the attention span of American voters, in the ability of those who voted for Obama to keep faith, in the Democratic Party to demonstrate any grit, in politicians & citizens to see beyond the short-term & to care about any substantive issues. It's just too depressing, so let's take some time out & play a little music instead.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fish Tank

It was destiny that I would, after Terence Davies' film & David Kynaston's social history, be contemplating yet again the miseries of English housing (a grim housing estate in Essex), in the new film Fish Tank, directed by Andrea Arnold. In fact the film's vision seemed like exactly the kind of sociological nightmare Davies and Kynaston had predicted. It's a powerful film, certainly, with a fresh, raw performance by Katie Jarvis, some lyrical moments where Arnold's characters experience the grace of nature (Jarvis's moments with the horse remind one of Ken Loach's Kes), and a sweet, abusive, deftly drawn relationship between Mia (Jarvis) and her younger sister Sophie. Arnold has been described as an heir to Mike Leigh and Loach, but I don't think she's reached their level yet. Leigh and Loach, for all their dark vision (and what film could be darker than Leigh's Naked?) and righteous political indignation, cleave to the virtues of fragile human relationships, of the good that exists despite the cruelties of an indifferent system, and they leaven their criticism with a humor that in no way dilutes their message. Arnold's work is grimmer, and less nuanced, and the film could have been edited down by a good twenty minutes or so. (It's also perhaps the most alcohol laden film I can remember seeing in a long time, a real validation of Britain's boozy, binge drinking reputation. I could go teetotal after this one.) But a good, restless, interesting film, nevertheless, with some very fine spots, and a director's refusal to see any of her players in a one dimensional light.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


On a day when I was repulsed by Pat Robertson's latest remarks concerning Haiti, it was immensely cheering to be sent a link to a 2007 clip of Christopher H. taking on Ralph Reed & Hannity on the subject of Jerry Falwell's demise. Talk about vorpal blade ...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Top 50 Television Dramas

The Guardian critics have chosen their top 50 television dramas of all time. Quite an interesting mix of English and US work, with The Sopranos taking pride of place at No.1. Check out the list here.

Locksmith/Avon Theater

I was in the locksmith's on 9th Street between 4th & 5th today, & one of the people working there told me it had been in business since the 1920's. They have a couple of photographs of the place in earlier days, including one (badly snapped by me)that shows the Avon Cinema, which closed down in the seventies (it had reached the xxx movie stage after a somewhat more reputable earlier history)when McDonalds took over the site. This lame shot (my fault) of photographs in the store shows one of the Avon & the locksmith's back in the day, but follow this link to see a shot of the Avon in its heyday. What a different block ... The locksmith's still has the original tin ceiling & the same basic layout, & apparently there'll be a very impressive vintage photograph going up there shortly. I will return & take a better shot of it than this sorry looking number. Apologies.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Family Britain/Of Time and The City

Having just romped through David Kynaston's 700 page Family Britain, and being somewhat preoccupied with postwar social conditioning (my own included), it was just the right time to rewatch Terence Davies' Of Time and the City, which I saw last year at Film Forum. It's an autobiographical collage of Davies' early life in Liverpool: using documentary footage & a mixed musical soundtrack, Davies explores the working class culture of the city, & the evolution & dissolution of his faith. Some of the scenes are astoundingly beautiful - check in at around minute nineteen when the scene draws away from a steep terraced street and then shows a medley of shots of children playing in the schoolyard, women toiling at the washhouses, and a solitary child lost in his own thoughts on a front doorstep. As in Kynaston's book, Davies pays attention to the destruction of postwar housing stock and the rise of bleak, community eroding, tower blocks. The film is well worth seeing, but at times Davies' actorly voice is just too pompous and mannered to take. It would have been better if he'd allowed his choices of image and melody to speak for him.

The Pregnant Widow

The Guardian has a favourable review of The Pregnant Widow, Martin Amis's 12th novel. I've been a big fan of Amis's work since the 70's, when he was at the New Statesman, & particularly liked the London Fields/Money/The Information period, but I have to say my enthusiasm petered out after Time's Arrow. Apparently he's back on form with the new book, exploring, of all things, feminism in the 1970's. Amis, like Hitchens, is one of those people you can't help liking despite their supersize egos & meanspirited tendencies. They're just too damned clever not to be infatuated with, & you wish you had just half an ounce of that verbal brilliance. With Hitch making an appearance in this novel, it should be a treat.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cafe 474

I was really sorry to see the passing of the soup/flowers/tamales place on 4th Avenue between 10th & 11th, & a bit apprehensive about a cafe taking its place, but today I went finally went in to Cafe 474 & I'm sold. Excellent coffee, & most exciting of all, they even make cortados!!! The place has a laid back, comfortable decor, and they still have a porch area, like the tamale place did. Apparently, a lot of the old Regular crowd have shifted camp to 474. Me too.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Gowanus Lounge again

On Sunday, when I mentioned the change of ownership of the Gowanus Lounge site (reported by Gothamist),I neglected to add that Guskind's posts are still available on Hope they stay there.

Clover Barber

Lost City notes the especially good Clover Barber sign at the corner of 12th & 7th. Alas, Clover has been closed since 2008(the elderly Italian owner, Ercole Riccardelli, became too frail to continue working) & every time I go by I wonder what will become of the place. The interior is all-original, right down to hair product ads., red leather chairs & the children's fire-truck ride. I took my son there regularly when he was young, until the haircuts became a bit too wobbly & lopsided to justify the experience. I'm pretty sure Riccardelli owns/owned the building, but I don't know what's going on there. It would be a fine shop to preserve. In the same area of 7th, I gather that there's finally a permanent sign up honoring Whitey(John Glendinning), a much loved neighborhood fixture who died in 2008. I have to get by there this weekend to get a photograph. The Daily News had a great profile of Whitey back in '07.

The Newseum

A friend just sent a link to Newseum, a site that displays the front pages of newspapers from all over the world. U.S. newspapers predominate, but you can check out headlines from Oradea (Romania) to Calcutta, & apparently you can access whole newspapers on some of the sites. Interesting to see what's front page news around the country or globe.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Last Emperor

I missed this when it came out earlier in the year, & have only just got round to it on DVD. A sweet, fabulous look at the Valentino legacy, & at the long relationship between Valentino & Giancarlo Giammetti. My only quibble with this lovely film - those annoying glimpses of Gwynneth Paltrow ...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Old Grey Whistle Test, 1973

Alex Harvey Band doing Brel, circa 1973. I distinctly remember watching this performance! The clothing is quite a troubling reminder of 70's style (especially that mime-face, stripey pants-clad guy), but the music holds up nicely. Their version of Tom Jones "Delilah" was not so bad either...

Gowanus Lounge?

Gothamist reports on the acquisition of Bob Guskind's Gowanus Lounge website. Don't know why the site couldn't just stay as a piece of local history & a shining tribute to Bob.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Peter Pan Bakery

With the G train running all the way to Church Avenue, it's very easy to get directly to Greenpoint, & close to the Nassau stop is the excellent Peter Pan Bakery (Manhattan Avenue between Meserole & Norman). This place has been open since 1951 & it's now my favourite doughnut establishment. Everything about it is just right: a perfectly preserved interior, a gaggle of elderly local ladies at a back counter, bustling, no-nonsense waitresses & a heavenly array of doughnuts (sour cream, jelly, apple crumb ..). I'm not much of a doughnut eater, but this place could tempt even the most diet-conscious.