A grey-haired woman sitting in the Broadway median stares intently at me as I cross. Does she really see me? Or am I just a shadow of someone she once knew? Her eyes burn cigarette holes in my coat sleeves. Farther down, a pug squats, then scrapes. A mother bends to tie her child’s kicking sneaker. Up and down it goes, a tiny bow compass drawing arcs in air. A homeless man sleeps but hangs on to his hand-held sign: “Today’s my birthday.” His long hair and beard, his tilted face, sing like Jesus. Cars are lined up along the curb, nose to toe. In the windshield of a white Ford van, I see an etched universe of branch and sky. The intricate reflection stops me in my tracks. Everywhere I look, there’s opportunity to color in the blanks.
As the New Year approaches, the thought of changing up things appeals. This morning I peered out the window through the bottom of my unfilled water glass like a sailor with a spyglass. It turned a rooftop water tank into a bird and nearby buildings into canyon walls. Little kids lean back on swings, spin in crazy circles and look at the world upside down through their legs. They play with perspective on a daily basis. I want to do more of that this year. By refreshing our view, we refresh ourselves, too. What could you see differently?
A friend of mine once looked out her window in deepest night and saw a parade of elephants underneath. She described it to me so vividly that I almost stole it as my own memory. It turned out she wasn't dreaming. The only way to get the Ringling Bros. elephants to Madison Square Garden each year was to walk them across Manhattan when the streets were empty. Her vision of pachyderms on Park was real.
That circus folded in May, 2017, but our collective fantasy of seeing elements of the greatest show on earth lives on. This year's Bloomingdale's New York celebrates it with windows themed to the new P. T. Barnum movie, "The Greatest Showman." You can step right up to view the bearded lady (above), the snake charmer, the fortune teller and the trapeze artist all captured at work and play. The store's message is of fabulous individuality, inclusion, and, of course, shop until you drop. No elephants required.
I've always had a bemused appreciation of carved radishes, pumpkins, watermelons and other spectacular examples of the celebrated Asian and European art of fruit carving. I mean, really, who doesn't love a watermelon turned into a samurai head? However, it's not often you run across a carved banana, and this abstract fruit art from Henrietta's Table in Cambridge, Massachusetts was my first encounter. First, I saw a deboned fish. Next, I saw a caterpillar. The longer I stared, the more it became a Rorschach banana with infinite possibilities. A dinosaur backbone? A slightly gooey snake? An intricate wooden block toy puzzle? What do you see? And, more radically, the next time you pick up a knife to cut your summer fruit, what could you make?
Aspenites, apparently, don't need snow to ski. They just strap themselves in their skis to the rack on their car. But at least they get to hold poles. This Aspen rooftop skier is certainly telemarking his independence (From Britain? From winter?) in the town's annual July 4th parade. Or perhaps he's a dog lover making a sly homage to Mitt Romney's Irish Setter, Seamus? Whatever you think, it's little feats of homegrown ingenuity like roof-rack skiing that lead everybody to love a parade. I took this photo last year, but it stayed on my mind. This year I went to the beach. I wasn't about to follow in this guy's shoes.
I'm always looking for ideas to change up my life in little ways. You never know when that one small change will have a domino effect that leads to the big Eureka! This clear globe of colorful mixed salad totally amused me. It was served at breakfast in our small Italian hotel. It reminded me of the little forest terrariums I used to create as a kid and also of those enticing gum ball-style machines with plastic balls containing surprise toys. Imagine if a ball with fresh greens had rolled out of the metal chute! This ingenious presentation made me stop, look and admire. Suddenly, breakfast salad seemed like a perfectly compelling idea. And it has ever since.
What about skipping the traditional resolutions list this January and opting for a manifesto instead? The idea came to me after visiting Julian Rosefeldt's "MANIFESTO" installation at the Park Avenue Armory. The show has thirteen screens playing simultaneously in the Armory's dark cavernous space. They show videos of Cate Blanchett performing extremely different characters who interrupt their daily work to recite artists' and writers' manifestos in otherworldly singsong voices. Blanchett's capacity to perform diverse roles ranging from homeless man to female CEO inspired me to think about change and how we all hope to "perform" better in the new year. Maybe if we think of acting, instead of being, the changes we desire become more possible. Manifestos are most often artistic or political, but I think they can be personal too. Instead of resolutions, or god forbid, that outdated notion of a personal mission statement, a personal manifesto for change and action seems perfectly in tune with 2017. I intend to write mine. How about you?
This week I received a "Thank You" note written on a manual typewriter that made my day. I promptly fetched this old Olympia deluxe portable out of the closet to fire off a thank you for the thank you. Somehow a 5-second email exchange would have taken all the fun and romance out of it. And my fingers got a gym-level workout, too.
There's a Slow Food movement from Italy that started as an antidote to Fast Food, so why not a Slow Words community too? It could honor the nutritional value of taking a little time to think about what you're writing. To braise, not microwave, your thoughts. Creative daydreamers who still prefer pecking at a manual typewriter or even writing by hand on yellow-lined pads would join for sure. One of the many cool things about typewriters is they need you to go slow. The QWERTY keyboard design was actually designed to slow people down enough to give the type hammers sufficient time to return to position.
Courier typeface makes my heart beat faster. It's the Humphrey Bogart of type.
Too be honest, I do love writing on my computer because I do so much damn rewriting. I don't miss the days of White-out, correction tape, carbons and labor-intensive retyping. But the dark smell of ink and the staccato sound of a manual machine beckon me. It's a whole newsroom in a box. This is how manuals work. You can buy yours here. Then sit down, breathe and relax into some nice slow writing. Poems and thank you's, you're welcome.
The voluptuous beauty mentioned in my October 24 post, "Sexy Pumpkin," was beginning to get a little green around the edges. I decided to try roasting her for an upcoming slate of pumpkin muffins on the Thanksgiving menu. I've had success with roasting brussels sprouts whole on the stalk, so I decided to just plop the whole pumpkin in the oven. Here she is before going into heat, reflecting in all her majestic glory. The operation was a success, kind of. The pumpkin flesh was easily cut and scooped after baking, and no fingers were severed. However, it was indescribably tasteless and bitter. I'm not sure whether I went wrong with choice of pumpkin, her age, or my cooking method. But the object lesson is sometimes it's better to admire than consume.
Construction peepholes are irresistible. For people like me, the chance to watch large machines at work as they dig and move dirt stops time cold. The view is never as surprising and disturbing as Marcel DuChamp's Étant Donnés at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but I always think of that weird and mysterious artwork nonetheless whenever I stop to sneak a peek through a hole in the wall at a building site.
As the world's population shifts to cities, it's time to think about where to find nature. I've long felt that New York City's abundant great parks are what make the city livable: in other words, not the buildings and streets themselves but the green spaces between them. The lack of nature can make you so anxious and depressed that there is even a term, Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD), for children who don't get get outdoors enough. Meanwhile, the healing Japanese medicinal art of Shinrin Yoku, forest bathing, holds that guided sensory walks in nature lead to increased feelings of well-being.
But still, sidewalks can be harrowing places. New York City walking for the non-tourist is not a leisurely stroll but often a nerve-wracking competitive sport. Most streets do not have enough shade or trees, and there are few places to sit and take a break besides bus stop and mid-avenue benches in the middle of traffic. What a lovely surprise then to find this pop-up rock park on a way west Chelsea block.
A little rock sit was the perfect antidote for my pre-election stress and general urban ills.
As I sat on the granite ledge, I remembered the inspiring views from the peaks of New Hampshire's Presidentials. The granite ledges felt very rooting and took me out of the city's frenetic pace. The rock stop seemed to work well for the arty guys shown above too, even if they did continue checking their phones while they sat or leaned.
Here's what you can do with a city pet rock. You can take a lunch or coffee break with Vitamin N. You can think back to all the mountains you've ever climbed, the views you've enjoyed and the sunsets you've relished. Or you can just strike a pose and check your email. But even if you don't unplug completely, it's still way cooler than sitting on an ordinary wooden park bench. My vote is for big, beautiful slabs of granite all over the city.
Is it possible for flowers to photo bomb? I could swear this very urban sunflower found growing on a city rooftop farm is saying "Boo"! I love how a foreground object changes scale and heightens impact. The applied chrome filter reminds me of the heightened realism in a David Lynch movie. This sunflower is scary, but still a lot nicer looking than the the giant man-eating plant, Audrey II, in Little Shop of Horrors.
Pumpkin designers are thinking out of the box. Is it because orange has become such a scary color in the 2016 election season? Or, like heirloom tomato and carrot growers, have they decided that colorful, misshapen, warty and hybrid is just a cooler way to grow. This season I've been surprised by the everywhereness of white, blue, peach, red and even super ugly pumpkins— anything but smooth and orange. I found ghostly white pumpkins with candles in a restaurant bathroom, I stumbled by a natural rainbow of pumpkins at my city fruit market, I read about autumn couleur heirloom pumpkins in The New York Times, and, when I went pumpkin picking in Maine, I walked right by a number of smooth-skinned Jacks to pick the quite voluptuous (and apparently tasty) Porcelain Beauty shown above. Thank God kids will no longer grow up thinking that pumpkins or even carrots (see my blog post, Purple Carrots, Black Dirt Region) can only be orange. Pumpkin diversity may not save the world, but it will definitely make it brighter.
I've walked by this cafe thousands of times and never thought it seemed that authentically French. But after shooting it and applying Prisma's "Illegal Beauty" setting, I'll never look at it the same way again. Once when I was driving a very familiar route home I got lost in thought, and when I began to notice my surroundings again I had no idea where I was. Even though I'd driven that route twice a day for years, I was seeing the road as if for the very first time. I stayed calm and kept driving and a few minutes later found familiar signposts that re-oriented me. The point is that looking and seeing are not the same thing. Art confronts us with that all the time.
Maybe I'm late to this art party, but lately I've been having a hilarious time with apps like Pikazo, Lucid, Prisma, Waterlogged, and Mobile Monet that transform your ugly duckling photos into digital swans. I'm not patient enough for adult coloring books, one of the fastest growing segments of the publishing market, but I did once love Paint-by-Number kits. Now, with the flick of a thumb and a side swipe, I become a museum quality digital painter. Above, look what happened to my mundane photo of arranged flowers with Prisma's "Mosaic" setting on it. Okay, I know it's cheating, but it sure costs less than an MFA.
I was at a Patti Smith concert this summer when a fan tried to hand her a gift onstage in the middle of a song. Her reaction was angry and immediate, "What the fuck are you doing?" she yelled. She stopped singing and had to start again. Both her creative space and personal sense of security had been assaulted by a stranger whose self-justified actions overrode traditional notions of respect.
I thought of that moment today after hearing that Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in a Paris apartment and pseudonymous writer Elena Ferrante was robbed of her anonymity by an Italian investigative journalist within days of each other. Both actions violated private female space in repellent and troubling ways.
It's not often that we think of Kim Kardashian and the pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante of the Neapolitan quartet as soul sisters. Though Kardashian is a public extrovert whose every last kohl-lined eyelash blink is self-recorded for the public sphere and Ferrante is a private introvert who purposely avoids exposure ("I have withdrawn from the rituals that writers are more of less obliged to perform in order to sustain their book by lending to them their author's expendable image," she told Vanity Fair), they are both engaged with telling a female-driven story. Essentially, Kardashian makes her living by performing those rituals in public; Ferrante, on the other hand, works in solitude.
But despite their different methods, both Kardashian and Ferrante (and, for that matter, Patti Smith) are women who have carved out original spaces where they feel free to create and in control. For Kardashian, that space is more complicated than one might originally think. It seems public, but is it really? Think of her as a successful performance artist along the lines of Lady Gaga, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Not only is the "Kim-ness" of Kim most likely all performance, it is also expendable, as shown by her constantly changing features and lifestyle. It may be that everything she does shields her private life while simultaneously pretending to expose it. Like Elena Ferrante, she has brilliantly created and sold a story while hiding in plain sight.
A woman who successfully maintains her own independent space, creative or otherwise, threatens the power structure and traditional order of male dominance. In that way, both Kardashian and Ferrante are alike. So Kardashian's recent robbery at gunpoint in a Paris apartment drew Twitter sympathy, yes, but also criticism that she had invited it by publishing photos of her big diamond, choosing a discreet Paris apartment (where she could hide from the public eye) rather than a hotel, and not surrounding herself with enough security.
Italian journalist Claudio Gatti also broke into Ferrante's space and stole the jewels of solitude and privacy. Female readers were appalled; we get it. We're also worried that without this essential creative sense of safety she may not write another word. If so, Gatti will have erased her. Like Kardashian, Ferrante will no doubt ever feel as free or safe again. Yet Gatti justified his investigation and the publication of her private salary and real estate details in The New York Review of Books ever so slickly: "But by announcing that she would lie on occasion, Ferrante has in a way relinquished her right to disappear behind her books and let them live and grow while their author remained unknown. Indeed she and her publisher seemed to have fed public interest in her true identity."
In other words, both Kim and Elena "asked for it." Let me just say what should be obvious: they didn't.
Speaking of cool fruit (see my previous posts on Purple Carrots and Jumbo Blueberries), I was struck by the ability of this decaying green apple to paint a Cy Twombly-inspired line. The apple was nailed to the wall along with other fruits and vegetables in the exhibit, "Kitchen Pieces," by German conceptual artist Karin Sander at i8 Gallery in Reykjavik (the exhibit closed September 24, 2016). The veggies wilted under pressure, but this inspired apple took a strong painterly stand. I was pretty impressed by its confident use of positive and negative space, along with its bold improvisation in response to a wall environment. Critics of avant garde art like to dismiss things with "My kid could do that!" Now I might answer, "But could your apple?"
Audiences know that if there is a gun in the first act, it has to go off in the third act. I took this photo of jumbo blueberries near a transparent push pin to show their super sizing (one-inch wide!) but realized I had also made a portrait of dramatic tension. It amazed me how juxtaposition of two common household objects easily suggests a plot. The blueberry's moist, tender skin looks so vulnerable near the tack's sharp steel point that your mind can't help connecting them in unfortunate ways. But, spoiler alert, the pin didn't kill those blueberries in the end. It was teeth that got them.
Silicon Valley would definitely call Athanasius Kircher a disrupter. The 17th-century intellectual's weird inventions included a mechanical singing chicken, a vomiting machine and the original version of this stunning magnetic clock with a goldfish that points the time. My first thought upon stumbling across this magnificent clock in the Lane Reading Room inside Stanford's Green Library was that things do not generally end well for goldfish in college settings. But this little guy should last for eternity in artist Caroline Bouguereau's 2001 recreation of Kircher's missing prototype. To remake the clock, she learned both glass blowing and old-method copper-painting with garlic. Her working clock (which runs on electricity instead of hidden magnets, but no complaints) is so incredibly awesome I couldn't take my eyes off it. No matter how you see the globe–clock, mirror, goldfish bowl?–its design and execution make you reflect on the vast mysteries of time and space, and of course on the flipped reflection itself.
This photo gives new meaning to the term "sofa bed." There's no doubt that succulents have been trending for more than two years now, as this 2014 article in Vogue proves. But until I visited the garden of House Vintage in Solana Beach, CA, I'd never seen a planted succulent couch before. The garden of earthly and other delights sprang from the unfettered and quirky design imagination of Debi Beard, who owns Studio/House Vintage and also runs DIY paint classes from her surf town shop. Check out her youtube channel for more demonstrations of wacky things you can do to furniture. Says Debi, "creativity is a survival instinct."