Monday, August 31, 2009

Nuradeen Gallery: "2 Women"

On Jersey Avenue, across from Van Vorst Park, there’s the Nuradeen Gallery. I discovered on a sunny afternoon when I noticed a sign announcing the Art Exhibit, “2 Women,” which showcased jewelry designed by Susy Salemme and paintings by Lisa Collodoro.

Farah Nuradeen, an Art Dealer and Artist Representative, opened her Jersey Avenue gallery about two years ago. It is actually the ground level, front-room of her apartment. To enter, you walk through a small front yard area filled with various plants, a sort of patio turned into zen-garden. The few steps to the gallery is sort of a journey, not in distance, but the robust plants helps to detach your mind from the Jersey Avenue mix of residential buildings, park, public library and various businesses as you step into a Gallery that once was a living room. The ambiance inside makes you forget the outside. In addition to the Art Exhibit, one corner had a full-size oval dressing mirror that would not be out of place in a Victorian era bedroom near a wooden African wall-sculpture of a woman’s pregnant torso.

Collodoro’s paintings were minimalist, articulated line drawings of stars and geometric shapes. Nuradeen explained to me that Collodoro painted them at an ashram in Fuji.

The intricately designed jewelry by Salemme, which from what I could tell combined crystals and semi-precious stones, consisted of geometric shapes and seem to echo Egyptian themes. A closer look revealed each piece as distinct.

The exhibit runs through the end of September. An upcoming show, “Bedecked & Bedazzled,” (at least that’s the working title), and will feature jewelry by Juliet Williams. “I always show jewelry. These are unique pieces, works of art that you are not going to find in a jewelry store.”

Another show being planned will feature “African Doors,” actual doors engraved with African motifs. I was shown some photographs, and they looked cool—tribal masks seemed paramount, designed into the doors, which come to think of it are both functional and metaphorical.

“Jersey City’s off the beaten path,” she said. “And this gallery is off the beaten path. I like off the beaten path.”

Nuradeen seemed most interested in promoting art outside, or at least on the outskirts of Manhattan. “Manhattan doesn’t need any more promotion,” she told me. She both finds artists and deals in art not just in J.C., but from Brooklyn to Montclair, and in various locales other than that famed island across the river.

“There is a lot of great art outside of New York City and that’s what I’m most interested in. Jersey City has a growing art scene now. People are surprised that there is art here, then they are surprised about all the different types of art and artists here. Then, what surprises them most is the quality of the art available here.”

For more information, contact

Keep Kool

I do not know why this sign was in the parking lot of the Boys & Girls Club. But, Kool & The Gang are Jersey City natives, straight out the projects. I ran across this quote by founder Khalis Bell, "We started in the Boys Club. We used to rehearse there in Jersey City." Another reason to Celebrate!

Mia’s Disco

The Gazebo at Van Vorst was reserved for Mia’s birthday party, a disco-themed event for children. I could do without the glitter and the dance beats, but good lord, those cup cakes looked yummy.

Polish Festival

I thought it would be pleasant to take in the Polish Festival on Washington Street down there by Paulus Hook way. It runs only one afternoon and is promoted by Our Lady of Czestochowa Church and is an extension of that Parish. Unfortunately, there was a table for the John Birch Society, which is a hate group espousing white supremacy and anti-Semitism. Their roots were virulent anti-communists in the 50s which meant harassing anyone falling short of their criteria for real Americans. They are an ultra-conservative, far-right bunch of nuts. Disgusting and disgraceful, not to mention, really dumb—don’t they realize they have a past that is both anti-immigrant and anti-Roman Catholic. The table had anti-Obama literature and brochures promoting the impeachment of President Clinton. How retro. What the hell where they doing there and why is OLC and Jersey City Cultural Affairs (who had a booth) allowing a hate group to be part of our ethnic festivals? Well, maybe it was a free speech issue, but for me, Birchers are still a buzz kill and I do not see how a Church-sponsored, city-endorsed street fair can be considered a forum for Birchers. The festival itself was a little lame, none of that great polish food (or warm, inviting atmosphere) so in abundance at July’s St. Anthony Festival (click here). But I did speak with a table of Polish War re-enactors. Now that was splendidly bizarre. Re-enacting some bygone battle with Lithuania. Hey, why should Blue Coats and Johnny Reb wannabes have all the re-enacting fun. Too bad the appreciation of history didn’t extend to the entire festival. The John Birch Society? Appalling! (I didn’t take pictures of this table so you have to take my word I guess).

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Our Great Sound-Bite Orator

Words and Ideas. I love words and I love ideas. I try to avoid politics in Dislocations, but I am unable to entirely, especially when it comes to a good wisecrack. The fact of the matter is, politics is where words and ideas coincide in our lives with the most frequency.

I get frustrated with the folks for whom politics is all and in fact they are either so issue oriented that they eschew ideas or are so blinded by their ideological convictions they mistake their belief systems for ideas and are compelled to ignore how to achieve practical applications in terms of issues. Then there are the people who ignore politics altogether and in turn, ignore wide swatches of ideas and clusters of great words.

We live in a Sound-Bite political world. Reflections, perspectives, in-depth analysis are not encouraged. The news cycle is so accelerated that formulating an informed opinion seems like indulgence. Words are used to bluster and little credence is given to or interested generated in, ideas. But, as politicians go, Senator Edward Kennedy was the best at overcoming the contrary influences of the Sound-Bite and words and ideas. He was one of the best at formulating ideas into words to make an effective Sound-Bite without short-changing either the words or the ideas.

I’m going to miss Senator Kennedy. I agreed with him politically, I’m pretty much a die hard liberal. Psychologically, it’s hard for me to go against that Kennedy name. When I was in Grammar School, there was a picture of John F. Kennedy in nearly every classroom. It wasn’t until High School that I realized he was only a martyr, not a Saint. He had not been officially canonized. I like to say my political philosophy comes mainly from two sources, the Sermon on the Mount and the songs of Woody Guthrie. I admire the New Deal and FDR and the strain of progressive politics that goes back to Al Smith which articulates and implements ways the government must be responsive to social needs and the less fortunate. Obviously, Senator Kennedy carried on that tradition. He held the torch when that tradition was under attack, kept the light burning during some of the darkest times of our country. With so much still left undone, his absence is all too apparent as is the sad fact no one with even a fraction of his stature seems ready or able to step into his shoes. The reports surrounding coverage of his funeral surprisingly show that he did a lot of individual good deeds for his constituents, away from media glare. That is what a politician, an office holder is supposed to—work towards effective legislation, walk the fine of line of compromise to get laws passed and use the office to positively affect individual lives. Tens of thousands waited on line to pay their respects, stood in the rain to watch the funeral motorcade pass. I can’t think of any New Jersey Senator during my voting life time—about 30 years or so and I have voted in every election—that I would do that for—stand outside in the rain just to pay respect? Forget about it. I wouldn’t stand outside on a nice day. Some Jersey Politicians I like, but I can’t think of one I admire or feel particularly proud of, much less feel inspired by. I can’t think of one who is beloved. I can’t think of any other senator who is beloved by the citizens of his or her state. Kennedy was beloved by the people who put him into office and reelected him for nearly five decades. Think of how rare that is.

But it’s not because of him being so beloved or my concurrence with his politics that I will miss him. What I’ll miss the most is Kennedy’s combination of words and ideas. I’ll miss his great Sound-Bites. The booming voice, that Boston accent, that ability to deliver a thoughtful, clever zinger. I appreciate a well written and well delivered speech. The best in the United States is without question, Abraham Lincoln, whose speeches are among the greatest works of 19th century literature. Barack Obama has given some great speeches—he’s an accomplished writer and I could name several other contemporary examples of exceptional rhetoric. Except of his appearance at the 2008 Democratic Convention, I’m pretty certain I’ve never heard an entire speech by Ted. But, I do recall several quotes, or in the parlance of our times, Sound-Bites, and I believe that was where his greatness as an orator lay. He could encapsulate the issue and the ideas on which he justified his stance on an issue in a few, insightful, news-ready sentences.

I’ve tried to find a few quotes that support my proposition. Of course, the ones against Bush are memorable:

“Make no mistake about it! There is an organized movement against organized labor and it's called the Bush Administration."

“The Republicans are looking after the financial interests of the wealthiest individuals in this country.”

Right on! Kennedy gained attention in the first decade of this new century by voting against the Iraq war, a brave position at the time, one that received much ridicule, but he sure sounds right today and the opposition—the sheer fed-up-ness with the lies that led to the war and the poor planning of the early stages—propelled Obama into office and the Bush Administration into historical disgrace.

“There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud.”

“The war in Iraq itself has not made America safer and has not made the world safer.”

Simple, to the point. Calls a spade a spade. Fraud! Safer! Sound bite orator extraordinaire.

Look at this exhortation: “The President’s handling of the war has been a toxic mix of ignorance, arrogance, and stubborn ideology. No amount of Presidential rhetoric or preposterous campaign spin can conceal the truth about the steady downward spiral in our national security since President Bush made the decision to go to war in Iraq.”

What great use of adjectives—not just any rhetoric—Presidential Rhetoric. The clear implication is that the President is using his office to conceal lies. Preposterous Campaign Spin. Preposterous. What great word choice.

Kennedy spouted these quotable, compelling Sound-Bites during the immediate post-9-11 era, when any voice of dissatisfaction with the Bush Administration was considered by many as tantamount to treason. That time was a low point for our country. Kennedy was often the lone voice in the wilderness, but because he was a Kennedy, because he had the stature, because he was undeniably a master of putting ideas into words and words into Sound-Bites, he could not be dismissed or ignored. A few years later, it was his guidance that our nation turned to and that guidance came in his endorsement of Obama, a watershed tie breaking moment.

His speech at last year’s convention, was short, in the pep rally preaching to the choir category. It was also made within the context of his very public Brain Cancer diagnosis. He left his hospital bed to make the speech. But look at how his words emphasize the ideas he led his life promoting.

“I have come here tonight to stand with you to change America, to restore its future, to rise to our best ideals, and to elect Barack Obama president of the United States. As I look ahead, I am strengthened by family and friendship. So many of you have been with me in the happiest days and the hardest days. Together we have known success and seen setbacks, victory and defeat. But we have never lost our belief that we are all called to a better country and a newer world. And I pledge to you -- I pledge to you that I will be there next January on the floor of the United States Senate when we begin the great test.”

After eight years of the Bush Administration, Kennedy calls us to “restore” the “future” of our country—optimistic and always looking forward, that has always epitomized our country. Then he turns to himself, using his celebrity and his publicized illness and pledges to be there to see it happen in spite of his disease. That paragraph I excerpted, read it out loud. It’s the perfect sound-bite and because it indirectly references the brain cancer, it has to be carried by the news. Perfect sound-bite. But, he turns our sympathy for his suffering into identification so that we too, pledge to be there in January. An uncommon ability and one that he pulled off with ease.

They weren’t all about Bush, and not all in recent years. Flag burning—one of the most meaningless controversies stirred up periodically by right-wing politicians trying to set up false tests of patriotism. Look at this quote, short, succinct and cutting to the core of the issue—free speech.

“If we set the precedent of limiting the First Amendment, in order to protect the sensibilities of those who are offended by flag burning, what will we say the next time someone is offended by some other minority view, or by some other person’s exercise of the freedom the Constitution is supposed to protect?”

In the late 90s, the Republicans—a few years before the supreme court republicans decided that counting votes in Florida was un-American—impeached President Clinton. No stranger to sex scandals himself, Kennedy had the right Sound-Bite: "Republicans in the House of Representatives, in their partisan vendetta against the President, have wielded the impeachment power in precisely the way the framers rejected recklessly and without regard for the Constitution or the will of the American people."

What prompted me to blog this was Kennedy’s famous Bork blurb. “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is — and is often the only — protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy… President Reagan is still our president. But he should not be able to reach out from the muck of Irangate, reach into the muck of Watergate and impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court and the next generation of Americans. No justice would be better than this injustice.”

It was the last couple of years of the Reagan Administration and this guy Bork was bad news. Reagan started his presidential campaign by going to Philadelphia, Mississippi, where civil rights workers had been murdered in the 60s and espousing his support for State Rights. Bork was a legal theory guy that saw the Segregation laws as constitutional, narrowly defined—and by narrowly defining them dismissed them—the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendment and opposed the Brown V. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. Let’s remember, during the last year of Bush I’s administration, basically the last year of Reagan’s 12 years of mis-rule—California erupted in race riots.

The New York Times ran this long piece about the Kennedy Bork speech, trying to cast it as the inception to animosity between Republicans and Democrats. What baloney. Some pundits pointed out that Bork never supported the police state Kennedy suggested, but Kennedy knew, as did the American people, that turning back to segregation, that justifying Jim Crow, that appealing to the strains of racism in our past could result in throwing out all the freedom achieved for society. The voice in the Wilderness, Kennedy gave us hope by basically calling a spade a spade, accusing Reagan of trying to “impose his reactionary vision of the Constitution on the Supreme Court.” Reactionary vision.. He said that in the 80s. Somebody had to. And, somebody had to put it into a Sound-Bite form for everyone to understand. Thank you, Senator Kennedy, for your words. Thank you, Senator Kennedy, for your ideas. Rest in Peace.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Meeting Rain

“We could meet outside, if we were meeting rain.”

Sponge Bob

Even in the rain, he grins, for us, at us, ready to absorb all our woes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Way Water Moves

I guess I’m drawn to take pictures of fountains, often the same fountain. The water and the light catches my eye. The way the water moves. Like today, seeing how the water slides together on the curved outside of the upper basin forming thick drops falling into the lower basin becoming part of the endless flow again. Separated... United... Separated... United...

Senator Edward Kennedy quote

"...the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Puerto Rico Heritage Day Parade

I’m always conflicted about whether to consider Puerto Rico my favorite “Non-Incorporated U.S. Territory” or my favorite “Commonwealth.” Puerto Rico was declared a Non Incorporated Territory in 1900 at the conclusion of the Spanish American War (we won!) to distinguish it from the incorporated territories of New Mexico and Arizona, which were not yet states at the time, although they were also land the U.S. annexed following a conflict—the Mexican American War (we won!). In 1952, Puerto Rico was also declared a U.S. Common Wealth, mainly because the U.S. Congress objected to the translation of what Puerto Rico declared itself as, Estado Libre Asociado, which means "Associated Free State.” Maybe Spanish has an easier time with the oxymoron-ish contradiction (associated/free) than English, but what actually is quite amusing is that the Commonwealth was declared the official translation of Estado Libre Asociado, proving that legislation, while powerless against the law of gravity, has utter control over the rules of language.

Marin Boulevard in Downtown is named after Luis Muñoz Marín, who in 1948 became the first popularly elected Governor of Puerto Rico and is credited with setting up the unique status of Puerto Rico in the American story. Several plebiscites (finally, an opportunity to use that word) have been held in Puerto Rico to determine the status—become a state, become an independent country to stay a commonwealth—and always, the results are to remain with Marin’s vision. In other words, Puerto Ricans don’t want to get married or break up—they want to stay being Friends with Benefits. And I say, Bueno!

This year was Jersey City’s 49th Puerto Rican Parade and it is always a good time filled with revelry. About a third of our population is of Puerto Rican descent and quite frankly, they’re great neighbors. My experience has been that Puerto Rican folks are generally good natured, love to shoot the breeze and have a genuine sense of humor. The often controversial N.Y Puerto Rican Day parade, only three years older than ours, is right after Memorial Day, the unofficial beginning of Summer and the J.C. Parade takes place right before the unofficial end of Summer, Labor Day. Celebrations of P.R. ancestry and culture book end our summers.

Some years, parade attendance has been lax but this year, the thick crowds lined much of the Montgomery Street sidewalks. Puerto Rican flags every where. Puerto Ricans really enjoy being Puerto Rican. There is both pride and pleasure. Another thing came to mind, they love their flag, not as some sacred object but as a kind of totem, and they display it every why possible, t-shirts, hats, capes, towels, face paintings, head bands, underwear. They reminded how devoted Dead Heads put the various Skull logos and Dancing Bears on everything.

Particularly this year, the pride was well earned, with the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to Supreme Court Justice. The political power of Puerto Ricans was obvious to everyone there—Governor John Corzine was marching in the parade, receiving high-fives and applause and there was a float for Chris Christie, the Republican candidate, indicating that Puerto Ricans and Hispanics have their right-leaning sides. There were signs linking Christie to Bush, which I might welcome but let’s get real, events are moving too quickly and the N.J. Dems might want to come up with a new line attack, or those signs might as well link him to Herbert Hoover. This is not 2005 and the country’s in the crapper. In spite of our indicted politicians, which it should be noted includes some Puerto Rican office holders, J.C. remains the bluest of blue but I didn’t notice any boos for the Christie Float—which he was on—although the float was smartly right near the National Guard contingent, which seemed to deflect any negativity. I don’t think there would have been boos; Puerto Ricans are savvy enough to accept tribute from politicians they may not vote for. Embattled but as of yet un-indicted Mayor Jeremiah Healy stayed on the reviewing platform throughout the parade, another sign of how much muscle Puerto Ricans have in this city. Hispanics have political clout, especially in an era of close elections and Puerto Ricans are the leaders of Hispanic clout in these parts. They know it too and are more than happy to accept political acknowledgement of that fact. Right on Amigos!

It’s amazing how much of our city owes to Puerto Ricans. Municipal offices, firemen, police, teachers, healthcare workers, they all had floats and/or marchers. Every sector of government that makes our city run was represented. And there were dancers, athletic associations, folks in wheel chairs, a whole contingent of bicycle riders. There were several Miss Puerto Ricos to be seen, dignitaries from the native island. I thought about how Puerto Ricans represent the best aspiration of our city—egalitarianism.

My favorite float had this hip hop music blaring and two cops bustin moves. Well, they might not have been the best moves, but hey a great effort and I’d rather have them bustin moves than me (I apologize for that pun). There were a couple of Police Floats emblazoned with memorials to Detective Marc DiNardo and one float I saw his widow, Mary, waving to the crowd, who didn’t have to be told who she was. Cheers erupted. The solidarity of the community, all of the community of our city is something we should all pause to take pride in.

Puerto Rican flags on bodies, on cars, on bicycles, on baby strollers. It rained much of the morning, but the sky broke for the Parade, and has the Parade run down, sun showers came and everyone seemed to be okay with the rain. The rain cooled the temperature down, it was nice to walk home and let the brief rain fall. School starts in a couple of weeks, the days are already getting shorter, Football is ready to start and it’s pretty obvious what teams are and are not going to be playing baseball come October. Before the season comes to end, our annual Puerto Rican party brings the community together, reminding us that we share the best within ourselves.