Monday, August 30, 2010

Copperplate Printing Press

They called it a Copperplate Printing Press, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was another term for it. Whatever the precise nomenclature, it’s authentic. The J.C. Arts School on the downtown nickel (okay, that’s 5th street between Coles & Monmouth) has added a nearby garage to its club house, a-hem, I mean art collective & education complex and this authentic 20th century Copperplate Press was donated to them. It is used for print making. Etchings are made on a sheet of copper, which is inserted into this magnificent contraption, then the print maker slides thick paper under the plate, turns the wheel, pressing the plate to paper. Thus art was made, not just pre-digital, but pre-analog. It’s the type of thing you had to join a guild to learn, back in the day, just after the age of enlightenment I reckon.

This chap book is either by or about Agate Veeber. It is written in Estonian (at least, she was Estonian, so I'm guessing that is the language). The pamphlet accompanied the press. This press may have belonged to or been used by her. I found this out online: Agate Veeber (1901 - 1988) Agate Veeber was born in Tallinn and died in New York. She studied at the Ants Laikmaas studio school at the end of 1920s and at the Nurenberg Art School and started in 1933 at the Pallas in Tartu. Her teachers were Ado Vabbe and Hando Mugasto. She graduated in 1938. In 1943-1944 she continued her studies at the higher courses of graphics in Vienna. Agate Veeber was one of the great masters in copperplate printing. The best are her dry point works with extremely fragile striping.”

What a cool set of gears!

Print Making has been phased out of several MFA programs and is considered an at-risk craft. It has been included on the list of endangered art forms for nearly 20 years. Contact the
JC Arts School to see how you can help save this craft from the fate scrimshaw suffered.

About Cake, About Cigarettes

A recent Facebook thread rekindled one of my favorite meditations, thinking about the saying, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Dylan, in one of his more lascivious moods, used sexual innuendo to deflate the paradox inherent in this proverb, but other than Lay Lady Lay, the paradox remains. Cake as metaphor in this eternal truism contains a hidden wisdom about the difficult, usually no-win, choice we face between having and doing.

If you do eat the cake, you will not have the cake. But what good is cake, if it is not eaten. Once eaten, it’s gone. It can’t be eaten twice. The circle is complete and continues to spin.

If you unpack this concept you see that both possibilities while losses—you lose the cake, or you lose the purpose of cake—are worthwhile. Eating cake is more pleasurable—likely a better use of cake—than merely possessing the cake, but possessing it has undeniable advantages, such as the satisfaction of ownership and the certainty that cake will not be absent in your life. The saying is as much about the paradox as it is about your ability to appreciate cake no matter if you decide to eat it or to have it. By thinking about the cake, you can actually eliminate the circle and transcend the contradiction.

It’s almost a year since I quit smoking. I smoked for about 25 years, started in college. I went to Europe after school, and I remember quitting for about a day. That was the only time I ever bothered. I loved smoking cigarettes. I lit up within an hour of waking. I smoked every chance I could. Smoking was one of my favorite things to do.

I had a minor heart attack on September 26th. My last cigarette was in the emergency room parking lot of the hospital. I flicked the smoldering butt into the night, exhaling smoke as the glass doors slid open. As last cigarettes go, I consider this being a shoe-in for the Smoking Hall of Fame. Three days later, I was let out of the hospital, wearing a nicotine patch. Two new stents in the arteries, and for the bonus prize: I was informed I also had diabetes. Smoke again and you’ll be back here. Intensive Care is no musical comedy. I always said I would rather die than quit, but when that specific amendment hit the floor for an up or down vote, I underwent a complete policy reversal.

I miss smoking very much. I know all the downsides of the habit and quitting was the probably hardest thing I ever did. But let me just say, here and now, I will never be Anti-Smoking. Except for the potential health risks, it is a fantastic vice. Tobacco tastes great, it is fun to inhale and exhale, whether it be a puff or long drag. Besides the flavor, it reduces stress and anxiety and enhances memory and concentration. We are still kindred, fellow smokers. Quit if you want, quit if you have to, or spark up that cigarette, cigar or pipe. I support any of those decisions you make, my brethren. Self Righteousness is a sin, I hate hypocrisy, and I love freedom body and soul!

About a year may have passed, but I am and always will be, a smoker. I admit I am helpless to the cigarette: one is too many and two packs are not enough. It took at least three months before I felt nicotine free, about five until I realized that my breathing drastically improved.

How did I quit, you ask? I was on the patch for about two weeks, weaned myself off it, and switched to flavored tooth picks, the Australian Chewing Sticks you get in health food stores. I increased my exercise regimen and made a sweeping change in my diet—all recommended by my cardiologist. I actually lost weight. I hate clichés and refused to become the obese ex-smoker. Basically, I thought about cigarettes—about not smoking them mainly—every second of every waking hour for about three to four months. At night, I dreamt of smoking. After that period of time, basically you think of cigarettes about every minute not every second, and the dreams are more weekly than nightly.

It is tough. After the first two months, it gets slightly (slightly: micron by micron) less tougher every day. I’m not patting myself on my back, but truth be told, it is not as impossible as I thought it would be. However, much more often than not, the sailing is the opposite of smooth. You lurch from squall to storm. Like this one time, this couple waited behind me as I pushed crumpled bills into an uncooperative metrorocard machine. I heard their tongues click against the roofs of their mouths. I turned and shouted at the top of my now tar free lungs, “Like you never had trouble with these machines. I had to wait on line too just like you! Can’t you see this machine isn’t accepting the bills?” Their eyes widen with fear as they apologized. I probably remained a conversation topic for them the entire night. There were a few incidents like that. Let’s just say, I had some testy moments.

I still love the smell of cigarette smoke. I fully support smokers rights. Dammit, I swear I still think it looks sexy—damn sexy—when a woman lights up. I still love smoking as much as ever; yet I don’t smoke. What’s weird is that, while I (knock on wood) will never light up again, I’ve never actually felt like lighting up. Amazing the willpower a brush with death can inspire, and I think three days in the hospital, forced to be without a cigarette, paid off in massive dividends quitting wise. Hospitalization gave me a head start on smoking cessation. I have never felt tempted to have just one, or even a puff. I would never tempt fate of course and test my will power. It is a substance abuse issue; ex-addicts are still addicts. I accept that and live day by day.

I still have an unopened pack of parliaments in the apartment. I will bet anyone that they will remain unopened. Opening them and smoking just one has never crossed my mind, and yes I just paused to knock wood after typing that statement. I’m even knocking wood again. See, it seems like bad luck to throw out my last pack. It was the spare pack I always kept in the apartment, it was the one that was there when I went to the emergency room (the opened and unopened pack I had with me when I went to the hospital I threw out before I was discharged, to the applause of the wonderful nurses and staff on the ward). I would like to be buried with the pack, in my shirt pocket, which carried my dear deadly friends for so many years. Once I was home from the heart attack, I still craved cigarettes, but I lacked all urge to smoke. Cravings are a lot easier to combat than urges. Now, the cravings are weaker but the urges have never reappeared.

I can’t emphasize enough that while I have some pride in not smoking, I am still quitting. No matter how much time has passed since the hospital parking lot cigarette, quitting will always be a work in progress. I will be quitting for the rest of my life.

Nonetheless, the first few months, while difficult, were interesting. I am obsessively punctual, like Broadway Danny Rose (My favorite Woody Allen), I’m five minutes early to everything. With the smoking, I was like fifteen minutes early, because ever since the fascists took over America and banned smoking in all buildings other than your home, I had to give myself time to have a cigarette or two before anything. I would get to the appointment and not know what to do with this new free time. I would stand by a smoker and just inhale the whiffs. An inevitable bit of small talk often arose, and when I confessed I’m smelling your cigarette, that I just quit. They would apologize, hold the cigarette away. No, please, closer, I miss it so. I’m still early for just about everything, but instead of smoking before the appointment, I think about smoking before the appointment.

Thinking about smoking is not as good, or as interesting as smoking. But thinking—really missing—smoking has its merits. I have found that purposely avoiding something you enjoy can be almost as enjoyable as doing the thing you enjoy. Most smokers exclaim my breathing is better, no coughing, blah blah blah. I thought about the many positive things about smoking. I was still fond of the gestures, like putting my two fingers to my lips as I walked the familiar streets of my daily routine. Purposely not doing something is very close to the same experience as doing something. The action is different; but an action that is the negation of another action by definition encompasses the negated action. It’s why atheists spend the same amount of time thinking about God as do believers. You need to have that action in your mind in order to avoid it. Sometimes the avoidance makes you more aware of the action than the action itself, because most actions you don’t think about, you simply perform them. Who thinks about sex when they’re having sex?

Not smoking is as interesting as smoking because an enjoyment takes place within the same context as the cigarette. With enjoyment, you learn things about your self. Your self awareness expands. Isn’t knowledge one of life’s priorities? Why each of us have been put here on this earth?

To help each other. To make life as enjoyable as you can for the people you know. To develop and use what talents you have. And, to gain as much knowledge as you can.

Quitting smoking may have removed cigarettes from my external life, but the act of quitting kept them present in my internal life. Especially during the first few weeks, there was the constant thought, remember this cigarette, remember that cigarette. Accompanying the first cup of tea in the morning, after a meal, shooting the breeze with a smoker friend, standing outside my apartment and lighting up to start my trek to the PATH.

Besides the actual moment of each cigarette, smoking is also a series of pleasing gestures deeply implanted in the subconscious. I began to notice how I would hold the flavored toothpicks that acted as an oral substitute between my index and forefinger. Or that twirl of a cigarette when you hold the filter between your thumb and forefinger—your other fingers up in the air, some European smoking etiquette affectation—I mimicked that with pens, which I inessentiality gnawed the tops of. I need things to flick. You know what that is, it’s the thumb and forefinger again: the filter positioned into the niche formed between the thumb and forefinger, abruptly slide the forefinger up along the thumb, “flinging” the cigarette into the air. I can at least pretend the world was still my ash tray.

One thing worth learning is that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. But learning this includes the subtle discovery that the benefits of having versus eating is only one piece of the wisdom. There is the object to contemplate. It’s about cake (or smoking).

The saying is usually meant to support either doing—the experience of eating cake; or the importance of pragmatism—possessing the cake, the saving for a rainy day philosophy. But what about the cake? Isn’t the subject of the saying not just which is morally superior, or in your strategic favor, but the wonder, beauty and glory of cake in your life?

I loved smoking. It may be a deadly habit but as vices go, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, it’s unsurpassed in the pleasure only a vice can give! The lethally delicious fumes in your lungs, exhaling the grey-white plume, the way you reflect, the way you never feel alone. Tobacco is great. The tragedy is that the tobacco companies spent so much energy denying the toxic side-effects of cigarettes instead of developing healthy smoking products. I will never ask anyone to put out their cigarette. In fact, loving cigarettes made it easier—well, a little easier—to quit. This love is not movie cliché love for a child or a captured wild animal: if you love her, let her go. Not smoking was just another side of the love of smoking, thus another of the seemingly infinite iterations of love. Love in all its forms always will be a source of fascination for me. The essence of desire is not so much about how you act on the object of your desire; it’s about the object that inspires desire. Which is another way to say the real truth, it’s really about desire.

Having cake, eating cake—no you can’t do both, but no matter what you choose, cake is still in your life. Thus it was with smoking. I’ve gained a new appreciation—a new love, if you will—for smoking by not smoking. Not smoking was very different from active participation in smoking but it still was related to smoking and the magnificent invention we call cigarettes. The gestures are still a part of my life, and the confidence that comes from my daily struggle with the cravings is another benefit. It is not so much about the choice, to smoke or not to smoke, to have cake or to eat cake, but that you have a choice to make. The choice matters less than your ability to appreciate whatever you apply the cake proverb to.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Roll-Up Gargoyle

Eating, procreation, fleeing for safety—is art any less of a human impulse? Saw this fantastic painting on the roll-up security gate on one of the loading docks in the neighborhood of once forgotten now repurposed warehouses. Why not paint something on this, why not transform it into a canvas? This seemed to be another example of the impulse to art, which I’ve also called random art. You see it happening more and more, noticing it more at least. I can’t think of any time I’ve seen graffiti on something like this, a painting or mural, so maybe it does provide additional social benefits. It certainly eliminates some of the innate drabness of the building. Seems the artist grew up with comic books, this looks like an alien, a super villain. Dig the pose this creature takes, sort of in repose isn’t it, waiting, knees bent, up high, legs folded like the way the door folds opened or closed? A modern day gargoyle, these creatures appear on old buildings, especially cathedrals, protecting them from evil spirits by scaring away those spirits. Our spirits are scarier than your spirits. Park away from the door! Do not block the Gargoyle!

Chain & Grate

Christopher Columbus Avenue has its own streetscaping going on this summer, and maybe there’s some under the street scaping going down too. This morning saw the sewer grate being replaced—as the rust indicates this is not a new grate—but I imagine what’s beneath is new, or parts of it anyway. Clever, the chain triangle used so the shovel can lift and lower the grate. There is so much humanity can do if we learn to optimize our chains.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Light Rail of Perception

I see that Light Rail coming, ready to roll around a bend, on the mural at least. I happened by again this mural in progress and noticed this clever addition.

Look, a train a coming on the mural by Thomas John Carlson

I love the Light Rail, the real Light Rail, a future is here futuristic version of a trolley or street car. I love how it sort of zips through the cityscape perimeters of Downtown. When the train traverses through the newly christened, Power House District, it darts between the old factories and warehouses, remnants of our industrial past.

In the mural, the train emerges near a building, approaches a curve in the track. The positioning of the image suggests movement and enhances the 3-D feel of this painting. But, the tracks in the cobblestones in the real version that this mural depicts are no longer working. They are not Light Rail rails. The tracks in the cobble stones were for real freight cars, when these industrial buildings were providing jobs and performing the functions for which they were built. New rails of course were laid for the Light Rail, but the Light Rail is not routed where these buildings are actually located. It looks so real, but the reality is, it is perceived. The Light Rail goes by these specific buildings in this specific route only in this mural.

The real versus perceived dynamic of this mural creates a subtext. I guess all murals are merely large paintings, realism in the sense that they represent a scene or at least images that occur in our world. The subjec of this mural is unique: the immediate surroundings of the building, which is scheduled to be a lounge, a fancy 21st century name for a Gin Joint. The viewer on some level realizes, hey that looks familiar, those are the buildings and Light Rail I just passed by to get to the bar in this building that also serves as a canvas.

I can’t recall another mural that intends to be a mirror—the one on Christopher Columbus invokes our city on the Hudson , it makes no claim to appear to be the actual waterfront.

Here’s the clever part though, there is no exactness to the re-creation. It may resemble a mirror, but it is not a mirror. Not just with the wiggly lines, an illustrative style that slightly exaggerates the buildings, streets, etc, but the fact that this mural is a perception of the area. The Light Rail route is no where near that loading dock, those mural buildings are not next to each other in the real district. The fact they resemble the nearby world the first assumption is they are identical to the real world. But in fact, it is a perception of the real world.

The more you look at the mural, the more you see the world around the building on which the mural is painted, the more you realize the divergence twixt art and life. The more you notice the art, the more you notice the life, and so on and so forth.

Is it real, or is it perception? I don’t think some kind of statement about art and life is being made here. However, with the mural being literally amid its subject matter, the viewer can’t help but notice the amusing contrast between art and life, thus contemplate the concept of perception.

It’s entertainment on the subconscious level. Why? Because in the end, we may know there is, but we can never truly prove, there is a world beyond—or in addition to—our perception of that world. (Maybe that’s why some believe there’s math, it is the only true objectivity).

I don’t think the picture is done yet, because I haven’t spotted Waldo yet.

Look at this building in the mural. What a nice patio, with tables and chairs.

As I walk out of the parking lot which is in front of the mural, I look to the left. There it is, the artist’s model for a new part of the mural, still holding its pose. Emote for me 150! That kind of weird metal sculpture is there, but where are the tables and chairs? That nice patio exists only in mural. It is just perceived; but it looks like it should be real. Hey, it’s more upbeat than cubism!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Ground Zero Land Mosque

Here’s an idea, let’s call all of Manhattan south of Canal Street down to and including Battery Park, Ground Zero Land.

Hearing about the Ground Zero Mosque was driving me crazy. Oh, the insipid vile crap from the usual right wing freaks, like Gingrich and Palin was not exactly unexpected. But then Obama, a man I truly admire, did his namby-pamby back-pedal after agreeing with Bloomberg. Bloomberg is a politician who has always given me the skeeves, yet his speech in support of the Mosque was the best political rhetoric I’ve heard all year.

I had to get my thoughts together about this issue and the first step was going down to 51st Park Place, the address of the Islamic Community Center and mosque, a former Burlington Coat Factory. I was trying to remember where this street was in relationship to Ground Zero. Like most Jersey City-ians, I’ve been down there loads of times, before and after the national tragedy. How can you avoid it, Ground Zero is also a PATH station. Many of us emerge out of this hallowed pit to some sort of computer station and cubicle. I remembered a Borders, but not a Burlington Coat Factory at the WTC. I always go to the one in Chelsea.
The so called Ground Zero mosque is not near Ground Zero. I guess it depends on what you mean by the word near. I never considered the WTC in Tribeca. Tribeca begins at Canal and ends at Vesey Street (Park is well north of Vesey). As the news reports indicate, it is two blocks but these are two long blocks, nearly a ten minute walk, which translates into nearly 40 New York Minutes! It is a little confusing, because one of the buildings damaged and imploded due to the 9-11 tragedy is at the western end of Park Place. No one died in this specific lot, although it looks a little like ground zero—its empty and a large building—not the TWIN TOWERS—used to be here.

Between this faux ground zero and the real ground zero is a little park and a large Chase Bank. The real ground zero is not visible from 51st Park Place. It doesn’t over look the scene. Clearly, the truth is that this is a Tribeca Mosque, not a Ground Zero mosque.

Quite a scene down there by the way. I saw two protestors, one against the mosque, the other for. Actually the for was a guy and a gal. Against, just a guy. I asked the two guys to stand close together for a picture, asked them to position their signs in the frame. I wasn’t the only one taking pictures of these two. Within a few minutes, there was more of a crowd, but they weren’t protestors, they were just coming to talk about this incessant news story. I talked to two young dudes with a video camera, I asked them to turn it off, I didn’t want to be on TV. They were from some media center in Virginia.

Notice what looks like Ground Zero in the background.

The background closer up.

The southeast corner of that same lot.

From that lot you can see Ground Zero, which is way in the horizon. That lot is not Ground Zero, and it is that lot, not Ground Zero, that is visible from the community center/mosque.

You could actually go into the building. There was a really tall and muscular security guard, Kamill. He was a big black guy, okay. He was also just a really nice guy, very courteous and patient. (I didn’t take his picture) To go into the area beyond the hall infront of the door, you had to take off your shoes, just like a real mosque. So, I guess it’s a mosque already. He said it’s been a media frenzy at 51 Park. There wasn’t much to see inside. We chatted some. He had gotten used to the attention. “Muslims are the new bogey man,” he told me. He was fun to talk to, competent and pleasant.

Look, Bush was the worst president in our History. Besides dismantling our economy, there was 9-11. Despite ample warnings and previous attacks, he failed to protect us from Bin Laden, he bungled the Afghanistan war by letting Al Quida and the Taliban escape at Torra Borra, regroup in Pakistan and launch an insurgency that continues to this day and is poised to suck Pakistan into the Afghanistan war. After the Torra Borra debacle, he lied to the American people and the world to support the Iraq invasion, igniting a civil war between the Shiite and the Sunni with our soldiers caught in the middle. But, Bush did one thing right, he suppressed the idea that this was a war against Islam. Maybe he could have done more to silence those in his camp who expressed bigotry against Muslims, but when an elephant flies you can’t criticize it for not soaring like an eagle.

I don’t like the term Islamophobia. Phobia means fear. What is being expressed in the protests against this mosque is sheer bigotry. Bigotry, no matter how justified it may seem, obscures the real problems and threats and is almost as destructive for the individual voicing and acting on that bigotry as it is for the object of the derision. The best support for that allegation comes from the Slave Narratives—the first person accounts of the South’s “peculiar institution”—many of these African Americans show how the constant hatred and distrust by the masters negatively impacted the master, and often they express a pity for the slave holder. An adversary is not worth hating on the basis of race or religion and by the same token, hating a race or religion for the actions of some means you have abandoned any moral or intellectual basis for your cause.

Bigotry sometimes seems so defensible, but starting with slavery and then our genocidal war against the Native Americans to the Japanese Internment camps, bigotry has been a major reason why America has more often than not fallen short of our ideals.

Bigotry is far from being an exclusively American sin. Look at Europe, the Holocaust had centuries of precedent and look the riots and the assimilation problems faced by African and Turkish immigrants. The Apartheid societies of South Africa and Rhodesia are just blatant examples, that continent is replete with examples of tribal and religious warfare, proving bigotry isn’t determined by skin color. It is a human failing we are all prey to. At least America tries to come to grips with bigotry, attempting legal and legislative means. It remains a work in progress.

Okay, first off, it is not a Ground Zero mosque. Second, opposing it is sheer bigotry. But a third way has come out of the opposition, a softer, gentler opposition. Not denying the “right” of the owners to build a mosque and community center here, but hoping they move it and show sensitivity. Relocate so instead of confronting our bigotry, we can avoid it and let continue to fester.

Move it to where? Where does Ground Zero land now end in New York? Where is the location that our feelings of grief will be spared? It’s an absurd proposal. Move it all the way to Canal Street—doesn’t half a mile from Ground Zero sound just as inflammatory as two blocks? Do you know there’s a mosque about a mile from Ground Zero—yes, it’s across the river and on Grove Street in Jersey City but still—about a mile!

I remember 9-11 too. I don’t really need sensitivity, what I need is a satisfying completion to the wars that resulted from 9-11. I want our soldiers home. I want those wounded cared for. I want to bind up our nation’s wounds. What do the pundits have to say about the effect of the Ground Zero Mosque on our troops and their mission? I haven’t heard a damn thing, and that is where the discussion must begin.

The fact of the matter is, in spite of all the failures and mis-steps of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the larger purpose of these wars – to establish sustainable, Democratic governments that allow the people a voice and determination over their own lives – is an honorable one. Debating that is now for the historians. We cannot pull out immediately, we have to get as close to achieving the legitimate government goal before we do leave. The other day the last of the combat troops had left Iraq, leaving 50,000 troops. Also, the parliamentary system of democracy struggling to take hold there has failed to form a government. Bigotry again—nobody likes the Kurds. It isn’t over in Iraq, particularly the war of ideas as nation building commences.

In both Afghanistan and Iraq, an insurgent war continues. I see it as we won the war, but winning the peace will be even harder. Fighting these insurgents – in Afghanistan, the Taliban – requires forces beyond just the military. U.S. commanders must also win the hearts and minds of society at large, at the local level, village by village, tribe by tribe. I recently read “A Question of Command – Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq” by Mark Moyar (full disclosure,
his brother is a friend of mine), a military historian who teaches at the U.S. Marine Corps University. Moyar is a proponent of a leader-centric theory of counter insurgent battles, seeing their success or failure based entirely on the caliber of counter insurgent (that would be us) military officers. He points out that these leaders must possess specific attributes because in addition to leading their own soldiers, they have to interface with the society, recruiting and training native forces, winning hearts and minds as they overcome the insurgents. For Moyar, the main focus should be on the “elites” of a society, the theory being that they will persuade counterinsurgent support from other members of society and subsequently a majority of the population. Elite is an unfortunate term to be used, but his historical research (in a fascinating book) shows that the insurgents are also led by elites, and counter insurgents have to be better at recruiting elites than the insurgents. “Better” of course is a complex process.

Remember that Turkish Flotilla incident with Israel of a few months ago. What emerged in the news from that incident is that the Israel/Palestinian conflict was a major stumbling block to recruiting security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, everybody supports a two state solution, but if Israel will not allow humane efforts from one ally (Turkey) while its other huge ally (that would be us) is indifferent, how can a Muslim in Iraq or Afghanistan believe the U.S. commander that fighting the insurgents—who are also Muslim—will lead to a better society?

Please sigh with relief, I’m not going to propose a solution to the Israel and Palestinian conflict here. I brought up that example because this general idea of “recruitment” as essential to us ending the war—and winning the peace—was indirectly highlighted by the Turkish Flotilla incident. Loudmouth bigots opposing the Ground Zero mosque, who want Tribeca to be Ground Zero Land, are really just exploiting our sincere sorrow and grief to persuade us that Islam is collectively guilty of perpetrating 9-11. They are appealing to the worst in our humanity. Once again, they are telling Americans to be less than our ideals.

Hate is easy. Thus it was, thus it always shall be.

Think about this. What if those elites (and the populations looking for leaders to trust) can say, Americans do stand by their ideals. We saw it on Al Jazerra that they support a mosque in Ground Zero Land (or in Tribeca, a neighborhood that borders the site of Ground Zero). They are tolerant. They respect Islam because they believe in Freedom of religion and stand up for what they believe in even when it isn’t easy. They even stand up against bigots who are popular in their own land!

See, this Ground Zero Mosque (that is really in Tribeca) could be a positive piece of propaganda in the war of ideas that is being waged along with the bloodshed of counter insurgent conflicts. It’s not just about dodging car bombs and IEDs and Suicide Bombers and exchanging gun fire. Recruiting societies to the vision of a legitimate government is not just about success in a battle. There’s a Ground Zero Mosque because the United States knows that Al Quida does not represent Islam. See, it's about hope after all.

Sounds like a pretty damn effective weapon in the war of ideas to me. Seems to have potential at least.

As of last month, U.S. fatalities in Iraq: 4,416; In Afghanistan: 1,233.

If it saves some lives of our soldiers, if it makes the successful completion of their mission easier, if it brings all of them home one day sooner, move that Islamic community center out of Tribeca and into the WTC PATH station.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rourke Rescues The Expendables

Mickey Rourke is the greatest actor in the history of cinema. Yes, I think he is better – certainly as good – as Brando and Nicholson. He is able to go places, express ideas and create indelible characters with a rare artistry and unfathomable talent. Unfortunately, he has never appeared in a great film; most of the films, even the good ones, are at least a little flawed.

A Rourke revival is going on highlighted by his Oscar nominated turn last year in the Wrestler. This summer, he matched thespian chops with
Robert Downey in Iron Man 2. A solid action/super hero film, their scenes together—the ones when they are not using their powers fighting—where they exchange dialog are compelling. In The Expendables, a similar occurrence takes place. Rourke exhibits an amazing piece of acting in the middle of this low brow Action Movie. Rourke gives both these entertainments credibility, elevating them towards true art. He not only ensures that in 100 years when acting students study great actors, these films will be watched, but also creates a believable emotional core that validates the story.

As a director, with the last Rocky film, Rambo IV, and now the Expendables, Stallone has gotten very interesting. There is more substance to these films than the reviews and Stallone’s reputation might indicate.

All three of these films are compelling and well paced. They have edge of your eats moments, they engage the viewer. Stallone knows what his audiences want, he understands his persona and how to use that persona to side step his celebrity and actually further the story he is trying to tell. . For all of Stallone’s faults, he knows and respects his audience. These are likeable films, solid B entertainments

He also respects the acting talent, which is why I believe he cast Mickey Rourke. They worked together before, in the remake of Get Carter, a film I haven’t seen but I remember reading that Rourke took the job for scale because he was dead broke and Stallone increased the salary by several grand from his own respect, a sign of respect to the actor’s actor.

Spoiler Alert: Mickey Rourke is Luke Skywalker’s Father.

In the film, these mercenaries led by Stallone go to an island nation in Latin America to overthrow a dictator and assassinate an Ex-CIA turned drug kingpin, Eric Roberts (welcome back!). There’s a woman involved, with whom Stallone has a romantic platonic relationship, much like Randolph Scott or John Wayne. He has to go back not for the mission, but to save the girl. It’s not easy, and requires a lot of pyrotechnics and the sacrifice of dozens of stunt men extras.

Yet, Stallone makes us buy a rehash of rehashed Dirty Dozen remakes. He is a very savvy film maker. A lot has been made of the cameos of Bruce Willis and the Governator. It sounds like a gimmick, which it is, but what a clever, effective gimmick. Basically, those two with Rocky/Rambo have a winking at the audience scene where Willis hires Stallones, explaining the premises of the film’s plot. Arnold, the rival mercenary, turns down the job. Willis brings in the McGuffin.

I usually hate this kind of stuff, but the reason it works here is that Stallone knows that he is too much of a celebrity, a known persona to easily convince audiences that he is a character in a story, where the action is real and the stakes are high. By bringing in these other two, as well known as he and for similar reason – 80s action flicks – the scene deflates the preconceptions we possess about Stallone. It is counterintuitive, and it worked! Instead of bringing you out of the movie, as cameos unfortunately often do – these appearances draw you into the movie. It’s a rare instance where the cameos encourage your dispensing with disbelief.

Then there’s Rourke. Rourke is a retired “Expendable,” the name of these hardcore, gruff but loveable mercenaries. A loner, he is a tattoo artist and painter. He doesn’t go on missions, but he advises and gives the Expendables their tattoos, a kind of Biker Falstaff. Rourke himself is decked out here with lots of ink, including a kind of winged angle above his waist for which he wears hip huggers. He’s wonderfully outlandish. His face is broken, he looks greasy and grizzled – I wish some director would revive his Barfly role of Charles Bukowski and turn the author’s great comic novel, Hollywood, about the making of Barfly, into a film; Rourke now resembles the actual late middle aged Chianski.

In the Expendable scene, Stallone is uncertain about going back to the island to complete the mission. Rourke convinces him otherwise, but he alleviates the doubt by explaining that he has to save the girl. As Rourke paints flowers on a guitar (you have to see this), he talks about how being a bad ass mercenary made him dead inside, how during a bloody mission in Serbia (yes, that Serbia!) he killed so many people, but there was a woman he didn’t stop from committing suicide. Well, let’s just say he regrets his inaction because it made him loose his soul. Yes, yes, this is pure purple prose pulp and what turns this crapola into believable entraining crapola is Rourke. When his voice chokes up and he softly weeps, you believe it, and thus you believe the film (at least until the final credits). Stallone just listens – an overlooked acting skill, it takes two to make a scene and even if you’re not taking you are still acting. Stallone listened and reacted very well in the film Copland, where he let actors like Deniro and Kietal monologue away. Stallone is actually a well rounded, gifted talent acting-wise and with age, he seems to be paying more attention to his craft.

With his debut in Body Heat, Rourke showed his talent for supporting roles. He soon moved to leading man status, but after weird misfires like Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and the attempt at a boxing career, his come back – until the Wrestler – consisted of notable supporting roles (Animal Factory).

His characters have few scenes, but one of them is usually an essential monologue, where he establishes the emotional believability of a story. In The Pledge, the excellent suspense/psychological drama directed by Sean Penn, Jack Nicholson is a retired cop who can’t give up a case, the pursuit of a serial killer who abducts and murders little girls. Rourke is a father of one of the victims. During the investigation, Nicholson visits Rourke in an asylum. A mesmerizing performance by Mickey, and Nicholson, in rare reaction mode, listens, giving respect to his under-appreciated colleague by stepping away from the spotlight. Nicholson creates both a space for the purposes of the story and a setting where this thespian can let his acting excel.

Similarly, in a more comic vein, in the under-seen film, Spun. Rourke, a meth “cook” this time, gives a monologue in an adult book store about America and drugs, again taking a supporting role. He doesn’t upstage the younger actors, he doesn’t steal the movie. Rourke gives the story emotional credibility. Masked & Anonymous is another example, but being a Dylan (Dylan, always Dylan) I can’t go there right now

I can’t recommend any of Mickey Rourke’s films as films. But for cinematic acting, just about all are examples of this craft its highest level. He doesn’t turn the Expendables into Apocalypse Now, but he makes you care about and believe its predictable hour and forty three minutes.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Feast 2010: Random Glimpses

Great Pizza. I mean seriously, a summer night, beer and pizza, is there anything better. Eating it in the street, enjoying the night air, seeing friends and neighbors. Plus, just an excellent slice!

After being broken Wednesday, the opening day of the Feast with sales of about 600, Friday night was 680 and Saturday was nearly 800. In fact, they could have sold more but the Rice Ball crew shut it down so members could attend the Ferris High School reunion.

Urban planning comes to the Feast. Barricades were set up in front of the Rice Ball and Zeppolle stand, arguably the most popular stands at the Feast. Lines would stretch out into the crowd, obstructing flow. The barricades formed a serpentine line. People waited patiently. People flowed patiently.

You can take this picture every year. What says Feast more than sausage sandwich. Excellent of course.

Notice the 125th ornament. A century and a quarter, that's the birthday year for Holy Rosary, considered the oldest Italian parish in New Jersey.

It was rainy some on Sunday, the final night of the Feast. Only 360’s day until my next Rice Ball. I just like the way the façade of the church looked. People had been using beads, or strings with knots, to count prayers for centuries before Catholic legend says that the Blessed Mother gave the secret of the Rosary to Saint Dominic in 1214. I recently read a great book by Gary Wills on the rosary. It’s been on my mind. This church is dedicated to devotion, the essence of Roman Catholic obsession with Mariology. The plastic banners go up every year, the staute in its alcove in the exterior keeps watch on us.

I didn’t see the procession, but I was informed that the statute is no longer on a cart, but on a rack so it can be carried. In addition, the trellises have been restored, to make it more authentic, how it used to be.

Sashes of the Maria S.S. (“santissima”) Dell'Assunta Society, which means Mary Most Holy of the Assumption Society. These say from the 1930s. The society was started in 1902 when Michael Colassurdo, convinced his fellow piasanos from Morrone Del Sannio to join him in forming a club, based on a similar organization in Morrone, Italy that was centuries old. Its purpose was to promote Devotion to the Blessed Mother of Jesus Christ in the incarnation of Her Assumption and perform charitable work for the community. The main activity was to hold the Feast in mid-August. Essentially, the Colassurdo’s involvement in the Feast goes back centuries, and spans two continents. For more on this history, click here.

Lemoncello or some such thing it’s called. I did shots with the Callusardo family, who brought the feast to Jersey City early in the last century and continues the tradition to this day. This Italian concoction was new to me, it’s some mixture of grain alcohol and lemons, they soak lemons in the booze over night—made fresh right over on Brunswick street. Carmine told me the story. Yes, as with most Italian delicacies, there’s a story. I didn’t quite get all the details. It’s strong, a tart rush of alcohol. This lemon saturated warmth rumbles beneath your skin. I didn’t like it, so I had another Apparently it’s lemon rind that soaks in the grain alcohol.. After the second I understood the appeal. I had a third before going home. Thus another annual tradition is born of the Feast.

The Feast: Forever Five

Blame it on facebook. My friend Darren saw the La Fiesta Italian on the page, or maybe I sent out invites to the event, I don’t know exactly. I’m still developing my online social networking skills. I’m not sure exactly what I’m doing Facebook wise.

If you’re reading this blog find me on face book and I’ll totally confirm!

Actually, he’s the younger brother of my buddy Danny, with whom I have been friends since 3rd grade. I’ve known Darren for that long too. It’s not like we were still dwelling caves, but we’re both old enough to buy 45s when they were the only way to get a single, not a retro hipster trend. We’ve known each other for several decades. Concerts include the Grateful Dead at Englishtown, Tom Verlaine (with Jimmy Ripp) at the old Ritz, True West at CBGBs, Dylan at William Patterson College.

He’s the father of two five year olds, twins, Matthew and Sammantha. He wondered if he should bring the kids—he had the kids that night—or should he just show up for some beers, but I said no, it’s all about the kids.

I’m not a parent (I’m not even obvious). I have several nieces and nephews, all of them older than five and except for one teenager, all are well into adulthood. Still fun, but in a different way. It’s been a while since I spent some time with children. M and S are great kids, sweet, good natured, funny. But what five year old isn’t, right? It’s just a wonderful age. The ability to enjoy in the moment comes as easy as breathing to children. The older you get, the more effort that takes. Being around five year olds makes it easier for you to enjoy the moment too!

Going to The Feast with kids, acting as an ambassador to Jersey City and quite frankly, Hudson County—they live in the upper reaches of Bergen County—just made me appreciate the entire event anew.

Coming in mid-August, the Feast has that turning of the summer feel. The sun sets before 8 PM, if there is a breeze you can often feel harbingers of fall splintering through. Mid-Summer becomes late Summer during the Feast. I read this comment (on Facebook) how there’s a bitter sweet feel to the Feast for kids that summer is coming to an end and school is about to begin. That’s true, as far as it goes. The end of Summer Blues is not limited to children Seasonal inevitability about the weather getting colder and branches becoming bare gets me down every year. The Feast embodies the virtue of hope. It’s a way to hold onto Summer for one moment longer, a way to sneak a few seconds into the minutes and a few minutes into the hour. School is not really an issue for five year olds; what I remember about Kindergarten is that it was free of drudgery. M & S are due to start first grade in a few weeks. This is the last Summer where they are entirely free of any bitter sweet end of summer feeling to mid-August festivities. They have yet to know the daily grind of education. They have yet to taste ennui.

Now, I know that ruminating about the beauty and wisdom of children is easy for an “Uncle.” I don’t have to be around them and be responsible for them 24/7. On the other hand, every parent I know whose kids are teens or older express a deep nostalgia for those early years of childhood – and I guess parenthood. Let me be effusive. It comes from a genuine police and is not naive.

“Inflatable” seems to be what they call those things at the end of Sixth Street on Brunswick. It’s not that I don’t know what they are, I just never spent much time there before. I never knew that kids who are too big, eaten too much wonder bread too fast I reckon, were not allowed to play there and the number of children inside were limited. In the Spiderman one the kids bounce, one was just a slide, and another, a castle were it was mostly bouncing but also a concealed slide. Kids jump up and down until they get bored or tired. You buy tickets. I know I’m stating the obvious, that doesn’t make it any less new to me or fun to watch. Not as much fun as it is to be five and inside, but still pretty fun. I went to get some adult beverages for Darren and myself, while he bought tickets. We drank and watched through mesh screens the kids bounced around and scream laughter.

Darren’s a lawyer, and as I do with my lawyer friends I bug them to remember their constitutional law classes and try to get their opinions on famous supreme court opinions. Reading actual Supreme Court opinions is a minor hobby of mine. Which did more damage, Dredd Scott or Plessuy? It’s just stuff we talk about, in addition our families, his brother, music, politics, and we were doing this usual chit chat twixt friends who have known each other their entire lives. You get the picture, you have your own version with your own topics. But tonight the kids are having fun and the conversation keeps getting side-tracked to them. Watch me jump, Daddy. Civil War could have been avoided even after Dredd, but there was no stopping Jim Crow after Plessuy. Watch me jump, Tim.

I realize I’m having a blast and it’s not just having a Jack Daniels and Soda outside in the street. (I only had one, Darren drank a light beer, just one.) I always have a good time with this dude, but I am absolutely giddy. It’s fun to be at the feast with Kids. I mean, it’s loads of fun.

I’ve spent much thought and a modicum of research on some of the historical aspects of the feast, blogged about it extensively last year and I find it fascinating. It truly exemplifies something very endearing about the role of Italian Americans in the development of American Culture, particularly as immigrant groups increased their influence on our nation and by extension the world throughout the 20th century. In the feast we see religious culture—its inception was to celebrate the Assumption of the mother of Jesus Christ, a complex and highly mystical piece of Catholic dogma—and we see the examples of peasant cooking that likewise signify Italian American culture.

This cultural context though is not really why it is interesting and a long lasting tradition. It may even be besides the point.

Can we get an Ice? Can we play a game?

Oh that’s right, why has the Feast lasted? It’s Fun!

We mossied through the crowd, stopping for a chocolate and blueberry Italian ice for the kids. With the ice guy and with the other vendors who served the kids, they were part of the fun experience, they knew how to entertain them, how to talk to them, how to be nice to them. It really is all about the kids. Everyone is there so the kids can have fun, or so it often seemed.

They played some of the games, nobody won. The mother had fed the kids prior, so the two adults ate Feast food on the fly, grabbing sausage sandwiches and rice balls and even pizza as we followed the kids. I was having a great time, seeing this feast through their eyes.

M and I eat pizza. He likes oregano. He asks, what is oregano made of? I get to explain how it is a plant, etc. I get to think about what it was like when oregano was new.

Then we met my friend Mary Anne, Italian, born and bred Jersey City, been going to the feast since she was in a stroller—she’s my age—and was grinning. She loves the Feast. She told me she remembered being age seven and crowning the statute of the blessed mother that is carried in the procession. It was the year of her Holy Communion. She still has a picture. She is remembering what these kids are experiencing. She remembers it every year and that memory folds into all the other memories of the Feast that she has gathered each ensuing August. Somehow those memories are a focal point from which an understanding of her life – and Life – develops. This happens to us all.

Life. Is it memory? Seems you are either recalling a memory or creating a memory. The enthusiasm for this feast, especially from those who have had this feast throughout their life, is what we all share in, it’s infectious. Few things remain unchanged in this life. And a lot of things that changed, have changed for the better. I have nothing against change... in general. To enable traditions to remain, they need to change, or at least adapt. In fact, the reason this event still is ongoing because it has changed, resisted being stale. Organizers knew what to change, and what to keep the same (rice balls).

Knowing what not to change—the parts of the Feast that a five year old will find fun! That keeps the people coming back, that continues the joy. Maybe it’s more than that, but I’m not interested in arguing about the more here. The examination seems besides the purpose tonight.

Want to see inside this historic church? No! Want an authentic cannoli? No!

What do you want?

Cotton Candy!

The fibrous nectar of the five year old gods. Cotton candy. Dieticians may say cannolis are pure sugar, but cotton candy is actually, pure sugar.

I didn’t even know they had cotton candy at The Feast!

And watching it being made, remember when that was a new sight?

The other fun thing, climbing on the Vespas. More fun than hearing the best Frank Sinatra karaoke singer in Hudson County? Oh to be five again, unburdened with our adult compulsion towards irony!

Time zipped. We have to get these kids back, it’s after 10 PM. Way past their usual bed time. Darren decides that we should get the big chair picture, I of course buy a copy. Some people I know point at met and laugh. They know I’m not a big chair picture guy. Like Cotton Candy or an an Inflatable bounce inside castle, these are parts of the Feast I’ve never knew about in all my time going to it, at least ten years.

But was that the end? Were the kids tuckered? It is well past their bed time. Turns out their mother has enrolled them in tap or some kind of dance class they hold for five year olds. They live in Bergen County so I’m guessing it isn’t Julliard. The Motown tribute ban comes back on the stage. I know you’re going to Leave Me! And these two tykes start dancing like you would not believe. They are again bursting with energy. It’s pretty hard to say a five year old has moves, but they were doing a pretty good job mimicking the dance moves you see around. The band plays Brick House, more Motown, then Hot Hot Hot. The crowd of course loves it; everyone is dancing or at least moving around. Even I’m attempting my very dismal version of boogie. I grew up in the suburbs and hated disco, I have a bad knee! Nonetheless, who can resist the lure of the dance?

While M tries some break dancing, I see Darren dancing with his daughter, the smile on his face epitomizes satisfied happiness. I’ve known this guy my whole life and I’ve never seen him smile like that. I wish all my friends could smile like that. The fact I had something to do with that smile gives me a feeling of pride.

A good half hour of dancing. They could sleep in the car on the way home. Dancing— after bouncing in every inflatable and generally running around the Feast. Remarkable.

All four us are giddy as we walk back to the car. Something else I remember, from my nieces and nephews, kids can be easy laughs. Do you live here, they keep asking me pointing at the houses as we walk.

“I live here in the tree. I live with a squirrel. We go nuts.”

This is funny stuff if you’re five.

What did you think of the feast, kids? Big Thumbs up.

They said yes. They had a good time. Besides bouncing around the castle, their favorie thing was the motorcycles.

The Vespas?

When I was growing up in the Suburbs, Jersey City was seen as a slum, a place where half the town escaped from. It was during the white flight era. I used to cover suburban town meetings as a young journalist, parking in the streets was a big issue. Cars could only be in driveways over night. “We do not want this town to be like Jersey City!” I heard this often at the Town Council Meetings.

Even when I moved to J.C. in the early 90s, people were aghast. Of course, at the time, my family and neighbors from back home and several other friends just couldn’t fathom living in Jersey City, any city. A whole other group of friends couldn’t fathom moving from NYC to here.

Even I have to admit, I would never have promoted Jersey City as kid friendly. But good lord, it seems a third of the women in Downtown are pushing strollers and another third are pregnant! My buddy still voice a trepidation that this thing may not be a thing for five year olds. Regardless of the state of Jersey City, I can’t imagine this feast never being fun (or safe) for a five year old.

Times change and often what we don’t realize is what has stayed the same through the change.

A big part of the reason so many people love this Feast is that they remember it as kid. The Feast has formed some of their earliest memories, their earliest happy memories. They make sure they do the same for every generation. So it has been, for nearly a century and one imagines that the members of the Colassurdo family who brought the Feast here from Italy three or four generations ago, they experienced this feast first as children in Italy. They wanted to recreate that for the next generation of kids. A tradition becomes sustained, year after year and everyone is a link in that chain, a chain made of memory. Is life Memory?

What I also noticed, maybe not for the first time but certainly had a greater appreciation for, is the general graciousness. Jumping around, having a good time, being loud—that’s what is supposed to happen. People at the feast are friendly and they encourage the kids to have fun. They give them room.

Unlike say San Gennaro in Little Italy, the Holy Rosary Feast is a local affair. That is the big part of its charm, there’s no blatant commercialism. It’s more a family than a date night. The organizers are very hands on. There are similar Italian Feasts throughout New Jersey, and I’m sure they are all good (except for the Rice Balls) and fun and special in their own right. This Feast is special only because it is ours. Still, that has to count for something, right?

You brought five year olds to Jersey City? There was time that if you suggested such a thing someone might contact a county agency. But these days, the secret is out. During the Feast, there’s no better place than Jersey City for a five year old to be.

Friday, August 13, 2010

B Street Band

The B Street Band, which I guess they are the ultimate Bruce Springsteen tribute band, opened up the Italian Street Fair, you know, the Feast. I heard they played the inaugural ball for the right ring freak in Trenton, who is a Bruce Springsteen fan so maybe he’s not all bad. I was of course hesitant about them, because, well, they’re a tribute band. But they were actually great, even throwing in a Suspicious Minds.

They were also loud. When I got there they played a great version, absolutely spot-on rendition of Back Streets (go racing in the heat). I met a friend of mine, he is actually a priest from Nigeria, who listened with a very puzzled look on his face and noticed that I was singing along. I tried to explain to him that I grew up with this music. I mean, he’s Bruce.

Okay, I can’t say that they were better than Bruce, but you know, they were less predictable. They were indeed a Bruce juke box, playing sincere, note for note renditions and they pleased everyone.

I wrote about my visit to the Rice Ball factory here, which was a highlight of the Feast so far.

I was feeling a little emotional actually. The Feast is always great, and you know, it was pretty much like last year, great food, and great people, fun. It’s the highlight of a Jersey City summer. Last year though, a few weeks after the Feast, I had a life threatening health incident. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I almost didn’t make to the Feast this year. I almost didn’t make it to this year’s Feast. I don’t really dwell on that, or haven’t for several months, but you know, I was feeling strangely emotional about the fragility of my mortality. It was probably why I wasn’t very talkative with the friends I met there.

One of my favorite things to do is visit the beautiful Holy Rosary Church during the feast. I kept thinking about how that, how I almost didn’t make it this year and I sat there and listened to the muffled sounds of the feast during one of the B Street Band breaks. It was wonderful, actually, sort of inexplicable type of communing with egalitarian spirit of the festival, which is in the way the same spirit, or at least, what one hopes is the same spirit, of the creation, universe, etc. It ain’t no sin to be glad your alive goes the Bruce song, okay maybe that wasn’t playing at this moment, that would be too perfect.

I went outside, I ate. I meandered. I chit chatted. One of my best friends,
Tony, is an Italian American born in Jersey City and where I grew up, Paramus, our next door neighbors and close family friends are you guessed it, Italian Americans from Jersey City. It’s easy to take this street festival for granted. On the surface, it really seems no different than any other street fair. Sausage, Zeppolee, Italian Flags. The difference may not be the fair but us, we’re here and this is home. We recognize the Jersey City style, its subtle distinctiveness. The other aspect is what I have always found, my life long experience with Italian Americans—they are welcoming. Everybody’s invited when they throw a party. The summer would not be the same if it wasn’t for The Feast. It would lack a very special elation.

The B Street Band performed an excellent Mary’s Place, Bruce’s elegiac anthem to love and loss inspired by the events of 9-11. It’s one of his greatest songs, certainly among the best of the last ten years. It is also the last great sax solo by Clarence, which the B-Street Sax player expertly rendered. Everyone was glad to hear it. Everyone was glad the neighborhood summer party was back. Hey, we all made it back.

Familiar faces around me
Laughter fills the air
Your loving grace surrounds me
Everybody's here
Furniture's out on the front porch
Music's up loud
I dream of you in my arms
I lose myself in the crowd

Rice Ball Record

600! That’s the sales estimate of Rice Balls for the first night of The Feast. This is not just a record, but exceeds by more than 100 the highest amount of rice balls sold on any night of the Feast.

I wrote about this last year here. I of course went to the Rice Ball booth first and this year they are indeed as awesome as ever.

As much fun as there is to have at the annual Italian Street Fair, I don’t think anybody has as much fun as this multi-generational female crew here in the kitchen. The Feast has been going on since 1912. I’m not sure if the Rice Balls have been part of it that long, but they have been part of it for as long as anybody alive can recall. These women are here in the Rectory Kitchen of the Holy Rosary Church every summer, placing the browned ground beef into the Romano cheese and rice, shaping that into a ball, rolling the balls in bread crumbs. They are fried fresh outdoors at the Rice Ball. These are absolutely without question the best Rice Balls you will ever have. But I digress. These women are having the most fun because they continue a tradition, not just of Italian Peasant cuisine, but of giving back to the community. Katie, the ringleader, told me she was born here, baptized at the church, grew up around the corner where she still lives.

I’ve been around Italian-Americans and Italian American culture my whole life. While the king may receive deference and respect, the power behind the throne, the real strength of the kingdom, is in the kitchen. It’s entirely matriarchal. This feast honors the Assumption of the Virgin Mother, which is like rooted in some heavy Catholic mysticism, so it seems appropriate that the maternal nature of the celebration is echoed here in this kitchen, which was filled with laughter and joy—not to mention the utterly delectable aromas of Rice Ball production—and rapid fire wisecracks.

“You’ll go to heaven, all the work you do here.”
“We’re not doing this to go to heaven; we’re doing it to raise money.”
“Maybe it’s a plenary indulgence.”
“That’s right, I’m rolling Rice Balls for the Souls in Purgatory.”
“A lot of people don’t believe in purgatory anymore.”
“Of course there’s a purgatory. The way people live these days, you think they’re going straight to heaven?”

I tried to take an action shot, because I like candid, but that didn’t seem to be happening. Even they posed they were still working the rice. When the crew got into position Katie said, “Make sure you get the 4C bread crumbs in the picture.”

Then I was told, they sent 4C copies of my blog post on the Rice Balls and 4C sent them coupons. I may not get that Pulitzer, but I’m able to get bread crumb coupons for a good cause. But the fact is, while my bread crumb needs are few, I’ll never use another brand. After meeting these women and eating what they prepare, only a fool would fail to follow their bread crumb recommendation.

The 2010 Holy Rosary Rice Ball Crew

Monday, August 9, 2010

More Mural

Meanwhile, back at the mural. Thomas John is still working at the mural. I try to avoid writing about the same stuff but you know, progress and evolution are fascinating, at least on a small scale.

About two weeks ago I first blogged about this mural here, at which time ole Thomas said he was about 60 percent done, but I think he either underestimated or is coming up with additional ideas as he goes along. This is really one fascinating work. I like the way it fools the viewer.

First glance it makes you think that it is an accurate representation of the “Power House District,” which is the immediate environs surrounding this building, which is on Marin & Bay.

During this initial glance, you may also believe you are looking at a 3-D picture, an effect created by the sizing of the buildings, aided by the perspective string, which he uses here to as he completes the unfinished portions. Of course, this is an old fashioned 2-D picture on a side of a traditional 3-D brick and mortar edifice. The blackness of the roof tops of the buildings in the foreground, the bricks which seem to shimmer, have the cumulative effect of creating the impression of depth.

Ahh, but it’s the second glance that we realize the creation of the effect—we need a second glance for the shimmering to simmer down—and the fact, this is not a photograph of the surrounding area—it is not exact. It is indeed, an expression of the immediate environs. It’s a kind of reflection. Everything is a little off, edges a little softer than reality.

Well, it’s not finished yet but as I shot the breeze with TJC several of the pedestrians walking on Marin stopped to see, most shouted out encouragements, appreciations, thumbs up signs!

Marin is a pretty bleak stretch of street, basically an industrial highway shortcut to the Mall and Holland Tunnel. This work of art brightens it up.

Look at the upper portion of the painting. There is now a skyline, which wasn’t there before when I last saw the mural. This skyline enhances the feeling of depth.

But is that skyline the NYC skyline? Not exactly – is it the artist’s imagination, or maybe some sort of collective subconscious?

When we see industrial buildings we imagine the skyline in the horizon whether or not it exists exactly as we imagine it.

You can also see outlines of water towers and other structures that have yet to be filled in. Another detail is the “morgan” sign on the side of the building. This was not here before. There’s a slight wave in the perimeter of the sign—a kind of wiggle one might see in animation.

I notice these things. I noticed that just like the cobble stones, it added to the shimmer of the work. The sign is part of the shimmer, as is the side of the building on which it is set and the windows inset on the same exterior.

Go by Marin & Bay and take a look yourself. It will be here a long time. Watching a work in progress though, that only happens once in a lifetime. Every day, more mural to appreciate.