Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The End, The Beginning

Tuesday, 14 September 2010
Brooklyn. I miss it. So very much. I moved to Indiana about 3 weeks ago to start grad school. It's nice here, and I really do like it. My mind is getting exercised again, which is never a bad thing, and I have my own apartment, new things to explore, new people to meet, and new Italian verbs to learn. I keep having bouts of New York nostalgia, though, which involves me listening to Frank Sinatra and Jay Z loudly, probably to the chagrin of my neighbors. The pizza here is subpar, I refuse to even try the wings, and they refer to cream cheese as a "shmear" on a bagel, which is beyond weird, or at any rate, something people in NY do not say.

It's been fun blogging about Brooklyn. It's been fun reading your comments and having you all share in this wacky experience with me. So on that note, this will be the last post on 2.5 Million + 1. Enjoy reading the back entries--it functions as a journal for me, too, as I'm too scattered to keep a paper record.

The end of Brooklyn means the beginning of Bloomington, which means--NEW blog! Check that out at http://indi-anna.blogspot.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Hugs, Me.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Culture Shock

Thursday, 5 August 2010
Hello friends! Three reasons why I haven't written lately:
1. I moved from Brooklyn, almost 2 weeks ago now. The worst part was that with humidity it felt like it was over 100 degrees, and my poor cousin and sister had to help drag my stuff (and their stuff, we had a regular ol' caravan) onto the C train (having all sorts of elevator shenanigans on the way) to Penn Station, to get the Amtrak to Hudson, where another one of my awesome cousins picked us up, then to New Baltimore where my relatives live and where my dad was. It was a great few days there (as it always is) and then my dad, sister, and I drove the 6 1/2ish hours back to my hometown. So it was busy, and it was hard to say goodbye to Brooklyn. But actually not that hard, because it was SO. INFERNALLY. HOT. And due to a lot of people staying in our apartment, I spent the last night sleeping on a yoga mat that was half in the closet, so I was ready to boogie.
2. When I got home I promptly had jury duty, and out of the 180 people there, I was the 9th called up, subsequently got picked, and had to drive up to the county seat for 4 days. Being a unabashed nerd, I found the trial itself fascinating. We turned in a guilty verdict. I had wondered how I would feel about that--you're basically putting a man's life, so to speak, in the hands of 12 people, but he was so guilty. And as his crime was kidnapping his wife and doing a lot of terrible things to her (throughout their 18 year marriage, too) I feel zero remorse.
3. My parents have dial-up internet, so it takes a long time for anything to load on here, I'm too lazy to take my computer somewhere, and really, it's sunny out, and I have a lot of phenomenal people to see, so blogging is on the back burner. Doesn't mean I haven't missed you though! Because I have.

Anyway, culture shock. You wouldn't think you could get it within one state, but you can. I'm always annoyed when people think that NYC is full of sophisticates and that Upstate is full of bumpkins--perhaps "enraged" is a better word than "annoyed," actually. I was in line for the opera awhile ago (ha, that makes me sound like a twit) and actually had a woman say that Upstate "didn't really count as New York". You'll be happy to know that I said, as snappily as I get, "I believe that Upstate is more New York than New York City will ever be." I must admit that there are some noticeable differences, though:
--when I went to jury duty, there was not one non-white person in the room of 180 of us. That feeling of non-diversity was not something I've felt in over a year.
--my fam was heading out to dinner last Sunday and drove to 3 restaurants before finding one that was open. It was the Casino, so it was good and the lake was lovely, and it all worked out in the end, but it felt so strange not to just walk a few blocks to another restaurant (plus, most restaurants in Brooklyn don't really close, at least not for an entire day.)
--it's really nice not to have to buy my own food, or if I do, to just drive to Wegmans. I'm already getting spoiled. I have no idea why I didn't look for grad schools in close proximity to a Wegmans (seriously, what was I thinking?!) but I'm going to have to bring a bunch of their juice with me. I like to cook, depending, but it's a lot nicer when my dad makes Ratatouille with penne (as he did this evening) and the only thing I have to do is pour the wine.
--today I went to the dentist and the hygienist asked me about my grandmother (who also goes there) and how I liked "the city" and things she remembered from when I was there in January. That would not happen in Brooklyn, unless you had lived there a very long time, I think.
--also today, I went to pay a parking ticket and brought a book, because I am so used to waiting in lines (at the post office by my apartment, it was at least 15 minutes, when I had doctors appointments at the hospital, at least 2 hours). Of course, there was no line, and I was out in 5 minutes.
--the weather guy was saying how it was going to be almost 80 yesterday, and how horrible that was. Our apartment didn't get below 85, AT NIGHT, for the entire month of July. He also said he heard it was 88 in NYC, and how it probably smelled there. He would be right about that.
--the best 3 news stories since I've been home--1. the Amish man who was robbed while driving his buggy down the road (they caught the person who did it), 2. the goat who was stolen from the county fair, and was found behind the Chinese restaurant, alive, and 3. the horse who got loose in Falconer (or was it Frewsberg?), ran through Jamestown and dented a few police cars, before officers were able to subdue him.

Do I miss Brooklyn? I do. But for the moment, I'm just enjoying being here, with these people.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Pianos...Performance Art?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010
Pianos as Public Art.

TOTALLY cool. 60 pianos were set up in NYC for people to play. Most were painted, although I suspect that most of the elaborately decorated ones were in Manhattan--the ones I saw in Brooklyn were pretty plain by contrast. But no matter. It's a cool idea, one that breaks up the monotony a bit. I only played one once--I don't like "performing" when there are many people around, so that rules out a lot of times here! This time, it was almost midnight, so things were quiet around Borough Hall. My friend and I had decided to stop there on our way home from Manhattan, to get some ice cream and sit on the Promenade. I played "Happy Birthday" (since it happened to be this friend's birthday) and a few measures from Sindig's Rustle of Spring (the only piece I could remember anything from, sadly), and the D minor scale (always has been my favorite scale.) Fun stuff. And then we covered the piano back up and went on our way.

Best of all? As my aunt pointed out, you didn't have to be a Catholic to use the pianos.

I find this reminiscent of the fish that Erie had when I was a kid--the giant ones that were painted all differently. Or the buffalo in (where else?) Buffalo. In a way it is better than the fish and buffalo, however, because with the pianos there was a greater chance for the public to become invested and involved, to plunk out "Hot Cross Buns" or some Chopin, and have a bit of fun.

Monday, 19 July 2010

The Art of the Busk

Monday, 19 July 2010
Busker: n., from the Italian buscare--to procure, gain; from the Spanish buscar--to look for. A person who entertains in a public place for donations.
--from Merriam-Webster

My time in Brooklyn is drawing to a close, and as usual, this is going much faster than I would like. I am so excited to go home and see my family and friends and DRIVE and sleep in a BED and have FRESH PRODUCE and go to JURY DUTY (seriously, I am excited about that), but at the same time, saying goodbye is so very hard. Some of the places I go this week I may never go to again, and that is always a terrifying feeling to have.

Anyway, one of the things that I will miss the most about Brooklyn and New York City in general is the amount of buskers who play instruments, sing, breakdance, beat box, slam poetry, and entertain on the street and on subways. I like those instances when everyone is involved in something collectively, especially if they are brought together through music or art in some way. (for an awesome example, check out this video that a friend forwarded to me--a mass Sound of Music dance number in Antwerp's Central Station. And here's another totally cool one, for those of you who tend more towards Jay-Z.) Here are some busking highlights:

--there is a mariachi band of sorts who seems to mostly stay on the R and N trains, usually in Brooklyn. I've seen them multiple times now, and they are professionals, by which I mean that they are really good at manuevering between train cars while playing, while the train is moving, which is impressive.

--Franklin Ave often has religious-y themed music on Saturday and Sunday mornings. A lot of times it is a twangy sort of guitar sound--ukelele? It reminds me of The Lawrence Welk show. The unintended consequence is that I end up with "Amazing Grace" stuck in my head for longer than I'd like.

--Atlantic Ave, which is probably the biggest station in Brooklyn (it has transfers for the Long Island Railroad and 8 subway lines) has a larger space for people to set up, so sometimes there are actual bands. Friday after work, a few weeks ago, I was passing through and there was a jazz group, made up of a few older people and some high school looking kids, who had attracted quite a crowd. People don't usually stop what they are doing to listen (NYers, as you may have heard, being busybusy people), but this group was big enough, loud enough, and good enough to draw a lot of commuters. People even clapped after the songs.

--I've been on the D train twice now when there was group breakdancing. Mostly this is men and boys between the ages of 13ish and 20ish. Seeing 5 men standing on their heads, spinning, and putting their feet on their shoulders, all while on the train on the Manhattan Bridge, is not something that you forget quickly.

--I was in the Union Square station lately, and there was a woman doing a rendition of "Something Wonderful" from The King and I. She had a beautiful voice. I suspect she may have been studying nearby, either at the New School or NYU, because she did look like a student. Either way, so good. As I headed down to the platform I heard her move into "On my Own" from Les Miserables.

--I saw someone playing a saw and someone else playing a comb. SO COOL. I forget where that was, though.

--There was a man last week who said he was auditioning for American Idol, and proceeded to sing "Lean on Me" with the words slightly changed to Brooklyn-themed ones. I heard him on one train, and then it turned out later that my friend heard him on a different one! So he is making the rounds.

--It's not all music--I've been treated to some (not very good, if I'm honest) poetry and there is a man who calls himself the Train Man and he imitates the noises of the subway--the different beeps, the "stand clear of the closing doors, please" chant, and the warning from the MTA about keeping your bags within your sight at all times.

--There is a man who is a little cracked but harmless who stands on the corner near-ish my place, playing the guitar. If you happen to be female, chances are good he will tell you he loves you. He grabbed my cousin's hand one time. Since it has been so infernally hot, he has been riding the shuttle back and forth, playing the guitar and professing his love to all and sundry.

--Parks are another great place to see musicians. Washington Square, in particular, is always hopping, although Prospect Park has its fair share, too. Even Park Slope has the man who plays the accordion on the corner!

I hope these people make money and I hope they enjoy their lives. I don't always contribute, but I hope they know that they have made my commutes better, made me smile all over the place, and helped me de-stress. I'm sure I'm not the only one they have helped.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Deus Ex Machina

Wednesday, 14 July 2010
There have been some religious oddities happening around here lately.

Last night as I was walking home from the subway, nigh on 11 pm, I noticed that the Catholic church down the way (yes, the one that wouldn't let me use their piano) was all lit up. I could hear singing from a block away. I peered in the door and people were walking around the perimeter of the Nave, singing loudly. It looked like they were circling around, with a lot of arm-waving and feet stomping. I checked to see if it was a saint day of a special sort, but I don't think it was. I have never seen any of the churches on my street open at that time of night before, and the pentecostal one had all their lights on, too.

A few weeks ago I was walking to the library on a Sunday and there was a genuine procession from the Catholic church, but I looked that up and I think it was the Feast of Corpus Christi. Anyway, I was walking down the street, and suddenly there were all these people wearing full High Church gear--hats, dresses, and tights for the ladies, suits and hats for the gents. All walking along and singing, while the priests, in full vestments, carried the cross, high, at the front. All while it was 90+ degrees out. It made me hot just looking at them, and I admit to being a bit concerned about some of the people passing out.

Today on the subway a woman got on, dressed in what my father would call "Sunday go to Meetin' clothes" and she said something along the lines of "I'm not here to ask for money. I'm here to tell you that those signs you see on the street that spout hatred in the name of Christianity are wrong, because Jesus loves everyone. He loves all of you and he wants to let you in. 34 years ago I was ready to kill myself, but I prayed to him and he saved me, and if you want me to pray with you now, I will. Jesus is love and that is what Christianity truly is. Don't listen to the hatemongers who spread fear." She talked for about five minutes--quoting the New Testament, telling us not take drugs, saying more about her life and what Christ meant to her, but above all to trust, trust ourselves to something bigger than ourselves.

I was raised as a Lutheran (my current religious beliefs notwithstanding) and lemme tell you--testimonials, such as the one I witnessed today, are not our style. Touchy-feely religiousness, as a general rule, is not my style either. It was hard for me to listen to this woman without assigning an ulterior motive to her desire to speak to strangers on the subway. But I don't think she had an ulterior motive. I think she genuinely wanted to help people cope, to let them know that they weren't alone. Which is kind of nice.

Deus ex machina translates to "god from the machine." It's a device used in plays, of the Shakespearean variety, whereby a problem is abruptly solved in a contrived way, and things are made right for always, because god or something supernatural steps in. If you were a god(dess), what would you solve? A silly question, but mine would be 1. stop the oil leak so I don't have to look at pictures of oil-slicked pelicans and feel my heart break, 2. make it so my friends have jobs that they like, 3. make it so that I could be fluent in all languages, and 4. give each of my family members a superpower of their choice. And world peace and stuff.

Actually, I've been reading The Metamorphosis, and if I WERE a god(dess), chances are good I'd just be vindictive, changeable, and spending all my days attempting to sleep with attractive mortals. That's what they seem to have going for them, anyway.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Free, White and 21

Monday, 12 July 2010
I don't know if you all watch The Muppets as much as I do, but occasionally Animal gets really excited when a beautiful woman walks by and he follows her, yelling, "WOMAN! WOMAN! WOMAN!" This particular form of flirtation seems to be popular with some of the men of NYC.

New York City male, #1

I don't like getting asked out by random men on the street, I don't like the creepy comments ("hey baby, you have cute toes. Are you single or what?"--true occurrence), and I don't like the attention. I suppose that it's flattering, a little bit, but mostly just makes me feel like a commodity. I've never really experienced this before, at least not to this extent, and being a seriously nonconfrontational person, I am pretty bad at deflecting these people. Would that I could launch into a rendition of "My Short Skirt" from the Vagina Monologues, but I can't. Won't.

New York City male, #2
"The only way to bag a classy lady is to give her two tickets to the gun show... and see if she likes the goods." --Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy

However, it's not just the ogling and the comments and the whistles. It's the way men shepherd me onto the bus ahead of them and open doors for me. Now, let's be clear--I think opening doors for people is really nice, and I do it whenever possible. I like people opening doors for me. But, I want it to be reciprocal. By my estimates, 95% of men will not go through a door first if I open it, and I'm not going to force them to go first, because that feels silly. It's all so silly.

For some perspective with my introspective feminism, I'm going to talk a bit about a piece of video art I saw a few weeks ago at the Studio Museum in Harlem. It's by Howardena Pindell and is called Free, White and 21 (1980). I admit to not being that into video art (yeah, I'm a narrowminded art historian, you will all just have to accept it) but this was arresting. I watched it twice. Pindell discusses experiences she'd had--how she was turned down for jobs that she was clearly qualified for because of her race (her BFA from Boston U and her MFA from Yale notwithstanding), for instance. The story I remember the most clearly was when she was a wedding attendant in Maine and people wouldn't shake her hand or dance with her. Then, the minister came over to see if she wanted to dance; while they were dancing he leaned over and said, "I'm in NYC a lot, maybe we should meet up sometime, work out an arrangement" and winked.

Pindell intersperses these remembrances with images of herself as a white woman, with a blond wig and sunglasses. The white Howardena chides the black Howardena for being ungrateful, churlish, and too willing to hold on to old grudges. She ends with the line, "but then...you're not free, white and 21."

Although I am assuredly more free than many, chances are decent that depending on my job, a man will get paid more than me for equal work, as will a taller woman. (I read that in a sociology book my sophomore year of college.) But things are so much better for me because of battles that my parents fought and barriers that my grandmothers broke, that it feels almost ungracious to be frustrated to be getting 76 cents for a male dollar; to be annoyed when a man on the street stares openly at my chest.

Unlike Pindell and countless others over the years, I've never been turned down for a job because I was a woman, unless it was so covert that I didn't pick up on it. The closest I've come to that feeling was in England, when one art history professor I had was intensely condescending to me and the other American woman in the class, usually dismissing what we said offhand. But I think his deal was more with us being Americans, and anyway, after we turned in our first papers he announced to the class that she and I had gotten the highest marks of anyone, and then he was fine with us.

So I don't know what it is like to have people refuse to shake my hand, but watching Free, White and 21 made me feel guilty and a little sick to my stomach. I can acknowledge the generations of privilege I have behind me. And I do. But what do I do about it? That seems to be the question I can't answer.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Overheard at the Met

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Marie-Denise Villers, Young Woman Drawing (1801)
Metropolitan Museum of Art (image from them, too--cheers!)

Today I was standing in front of this painting, as I often do, to admire the way the light frames her hair and simultaneously casts her face in shadow. It's one of those paintings which makes me wonder if this is, in fact, Marie-Denise Villers depicting herself (the wall label says yes), and if so, I want to know about her. She died when she was 47, and was barely older than I am when she painted this. Did she have a good life? Who did she paint for, and what did they do, and what did she say, and what was her house like? Did she have a studio? What was it like studying with Girodet? Why decide to paint yourself in a white dress when chances are good no artist would be drawing in that outfit? It is a gorgeous dress, sumptuous and lovely, and you can almost sense the shafts of sunlight that cascade over those delicate feet.

Anyway, I was musing on how big her eyes are and getting ready to mosey on, when a woman and her two kids came over next to me. The kids, a girl and boy, 3ish and 5ish years old, were looking at the painting with some interest (it's HUGE. It's hard not to look at). This is what happened next:
The mom: oh my, Lily! She looks just like you. You have the same curls.
[I sneak a glance. the girl looks uncannily like the Young Woman Drawing. Big eyes, blonde curls.]
The girl: I like her dress.
The boy: what is she drawing?
The mom: I'm not sure. I think maybe she is drawing herself. That is what is called a self-portrait.
The girl: the lady is a painter?
The mom: yes, she is a painter, from a long time ago, but we can still see what she made now, because she was such a good painter.
The girl: She IS a good painter. I think I want to be a painter too!

Ow. My feminist art historian heart just exploded a little bit with joy.