NYC


Nobody can possibly tell it better than this Scott Adams blog.

I rarely take the subway, maybe once a month or so, therefore I never got to really practice the art of MetroCard swiping. About half of the time I need a second try, and sometimes a third.

I came to NYC for job interview in late 2000, with J for her office visit after she got her job here. We stayed in a midtown hotel and I needed to go to 21st St, so I probably took the V train, which stops at 23rd St. After a looong ride between stops I saw the sign for 23rd and got off. The station felt a bit strange and different from the midtown one I entered, but what did I know.

When I got above ground, the strange feeling grew much stronger. The streets looked very different from midtown. There’s hardly any tall buildings around.

Nor people in clean clothes.

Then I saw a familiar skyline in the distance. Wow, Manhattan is really huge, I thought.

But wait, if I see midtown in one direction, I should see downtown buildings in the opposite direction, right?

I looked around. There were no tall buildings in any other direction. Nor people in clean clothes.

What the foosball underwater clockmaker kitchen…

In the end I got to the interview 15 minutes late. Now I wish I were late more and didn’t get the job, but that’s another story.

Since we moved to the area, I’ve studied the Map enough that I won’t mistake uptown/downtown or Queens/Brooklyn again, but I still get confused from time to time about local and express trains, and weekday/weekend/holiday schedules.

I’d safely bet that the average IQ of New Yorkers is at least 15 points above the rest of the country just because of the subway. Adding in stuff like spotting a non-off-duty taxi 5 blocks away and alternate side parking, New Yorkers have got to be the smartest people in the world to just survive in the City.

The kitchen sink was clogged.

The dishwasher was stuck in rinse cycle for a whole night.

The washer’s final spin sounded like a dozen anti-aircraft machine guns.

And we went into the City and had a most wonderful time–Ahhh, the sweet images and sounds of escape.

A good trip to New York always starts with good parking, because after spending 40 minutes circling the blocks in vain and forced to surrender to the $15/hour parking garage you wouldn’t have much good temper left. We found a legal space at the corner of Madison and 77th without much trouble, which is a small miracle according to Murray Tepper because many spots in that area is marked for diplomats.

Our main destination is the “El Greco to Picasso” exhibition in Guggenheim. We heard about it from from NYTimes a while ago, and finally got a chance to see it. Like the article suggests, anything covering 500 years of paintings in such a major force in European art is bound to be a tapas sampler. The taste is still excellent, since the tapas from which it samples are all world-class.

Now that I think of it, Spain seems to have the only unbroken stream of truly great artists in Europe from Renaissance to modern time. Italy was kind of silent after Renaissance; France only has Realism and Impressionism; Flanders has nobody between Rembrandt and Van Gogh; and the rest of the European countries have some spotty presence like Durer, Turner, and Kandinsky. Spain, on the other hand, produced one monumental artist in each of the 5 consecutive centuries: El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, Gaudi, and Picasso. Yeah Gaudi is in a different category, but I’m just trying to make a point 🙂

That is actually the theme of the exhibition: the “endless return and reappropriation on a formal and iconographic level that binds together the works of Spanish artists” (from the exhibition page). The unusual order by theme instead of the usual chronicity emphasizes it, however I feel it’s a bit artificial: you can find “common” themes and styles and techniques or whatever you want to find in any random collection of 10 paintings, barring pure abstract expressionism stuff, maybe.

Another downside for this “greatest hits” exhibition is, well, there’s actually no greatest hits from any artist. There’s no way, for example, to borrow Las Meninas from Prado or Les Demoiselles d’Avignon from MoMA–angry visitors would rip down those places feeling cheated. There are well-known pieces, for sure, like several Dali.

It’s still a great exhibition, after all, for an overview of Spanish art. The thematic display is freshening, and I particularly like the fact that all name plaques are placed very far from the paintings, forcing you to focus on the art itself instead of the names of the picture and the artist. I’ve got a terrible habit to look at the name plaques before the art, and sometimes skipping the art piece altogether if the names don’t ring a bell. So in the beginning it was a bit frustrating to spend much time looking for the plaques, but very soon I got used to this “right” way of viewing art itself, even though I can never get rid of the “this must be a Goya” kind of speculation.

One more interesting thing is the reassurance of Picasso’s stupendous productivity. At least 3/4 of the displays contain at least one painting from him. Wikipedia says “it has been estimated that Picasso produced about 13,500 paintings or designs, 100,000 prints or engravings, 34,000 book illustrations and 300 sculptures or ceramics.” I remember seeing a documentary on Andy Warhol where he claimed that on some days he makes more “paintings” than Picasso. How preposterous!


When we got out of the museum, the sky put on a faint glow of the freshly fallen night as the perfect backdrop for those Manhattan streets in fabulous holiday fashion. Our car idled down the super crowded 5th Avenue in a speed that would drive me crazy in any other time of the year, but Christmas ain’t any other time of the year!

The sidewalk was filled with people like I’d never seen before, progressively more toward and climaxed at Rockefeller Center. It’s a miracle that nobody was crushed or stampeded in that multi-block sardine can. We caught a glimpse of the 88′ Christmas tree (this one from Ridgefield, CT)–boy is that magnificent!

And a nice trip to New York must not conclude in traffic jam. Seeing the throngs of people I knew I had to take the secret entrance to Lincoln Tunnel–the only useful thing I learned from my boss in the previous job. In no time we were cruising (or rather, crawling) through the tunnel, leaving thousands of frustrated drivers behind…

cover

It was mentioned in 娜斯’s blog. I used to read her column in 读书 and liked it a lot. She lived (and lives?) in NYC for a long time and really knows what it’s like being a New Yorker.

This novel is funny as hell, like a good New York Post sports column. Like 娜斯 said, you have to be in NYC long enough to fully understand and appreciate the book, but anyone can get some quick laugh. I still don’t quite understand alternate side parking after reading it, but at least now I know what it’s about.

Good planners, people from New Jersey, except for the plan they must have hatched at some point to move to New Jersey.

“I read somewhere that the aggregate value of unexpired time left on meters people drive off from, just in New York alone, is the equivalent of the gross national product of something like 38 different countries.”

… the (subway) system had created as Tepper always thought of as the New York version of the Swedish sauna, offering, instead of an abrupt change from a hot tub to freezing snow, an abrupt change from furnace-like stations to freezing trains and back again.

Now this is why Manhattan is Manhattan: a perfect Spring afternoon in a museum of private art collection and Central Park.

We went to the Frick Collection for a special exhibition on Goya’s last works. Turned out there’re lots of goodies housed in the mansion of Henry Clay Frick. The museum entree fee is $15, but with J’s Goldman ID we got in free. Corporate America is good!

The Goya exhibition only takes up 3 small rooms (2 underground) with around maybe 40 compositions in painting, drawing, lithograph, and miniature painting on ivory chips. The breadth and scale is no comparison to what we saw in Madrid’s Prado Museum, but its focus is quite significant: the last 4 years of Goya’s life (1824-1828) when he self-exiled to Bordeaux. The pieces are from all over the world, mostly Prado.

The permanent collection is very impressive, with pieces from Renaissance, Flemish, to pre-Impressionism masters like Titian and Rembrandt. I like the English collection of Constable and Turner in particular, since I’ve never seen them in galleries. I hate the many French Rococo paintings by court painters like Boucher, though.


Coming out of the museum, we bought some quick food and sat down in Central Park for lunch. Then we strolled around Central Park mostly to practice photography for our upcoming European trip in just a week. Little did we expect that we’d run into one of the most celebrated Manhattan residents: a red-tail hawk called Pale Male. It started to make a 5th Av window top his nest in early 90’s, had 3 mates (first died in the Catskills, second died on Met’s roof from eating a poisoned pigeon), and several broods. Today a new brood is expected to be hatched, so there’re many cameras and telescopes pointing toward the nest waiting for the new chicks to appear.

The moral of Pale Male’s story is anything can happen in Manhattan, and anyone can survive…

It’s the last day of the Tribeca Film Festival, and I bought tickets to the 11:45pm So Complicated for 7 short films, and the 3pm Green Hat by 刘奋斗, the screeplay of 爱情麻辣烫. It’s our first time to a film festival, and it’s sure worth the money ($10 each ticket)!
So Complicated is part of the family program at the festival, and all the shorts are about growing joys and pains of teenagers. At the end 6 directors that were there had a Q&A session. Here’s a recount of each film.

1. Young Artie Feldman, Director: Erik Moe, U.S.A. 6 min

This is the best of all shorts. It’s the story of a boy named Artie Feldman who is an extremely talented agent for fastfood workers. He finds jobs for his “clients” at all kinds of fastfood places selling burgers and tacos alike, and bargain for their salary and benefits. Ridiculous as it sounds, the film really make you believe it’s real and in no time Artie will be a super star agent. The director wasn’t there, otherwise I would ask him if it’s based on a real life story, maybe even his own.

The film is very fast-paced (great editing). Artie talks all the time, with a dorky assistant managing his schedule and patching in calls at his home. At the beginning he’s negotiating with a burger shop manager for the salary of a client. He asks for $8.25 an hour, but the manager only agreed to pay about $6. Artie didn’t get what he wants, but wait and see. Then we see Artie making and breaking a few other deals, and hit a low point when a guy doesn’t want him to be his agent, throwing the tagline “I’m not in show biz, I’m in food biz”. Finally we see the burger shop manager again, shocked by some photos taken by Artie’s assistant showing him kissing someone not his wife, and had to give in to Artie’s deal of $8.25/hour plus benefits.

Hilarious, great tempo, great storyline. A wonderful treat.

2. Terra, Director: Aristomenis Tsirbas, U.S.A. 7 min

This is the only CG film. The story is that an alien girl named Terra builds her own telescope disregarding the rule on the alien planet. Her father tries to stop her as well as some law enforcement, but Terra is determined to use her telescope to see an object coming towards her planet, which turns out to be a gunship with a USA flag with hundreds of stars. The film ends there, but we all know what’s gonna happen to Terra’s planet.

The CG is ok, with nice alien landscape and facial expression. The storyline is kind of stereotypical, but the imperial USA ship is a good punchline. The director said it’s a tiny part of a feature CG film that he’s been brewing for years, and 9/11 changed his thoughts (I think that’s just a polite way of saying if he showed it after 9/11 he’d be booed like a traitor).

3. Little Losers, Director: Rena Ferrick, U.S.A. 17 min

A stereotypical but delicate film about one day of a lonely smalltown girl’s life. She delivers paper, hides her elder sister’s boyfriend, babysits, looks for the little boy all around, befriending a boy just moved in. The pace is slow, the children actors sometimes not very natural, but the storytelling is smooth. Nice little film.

4. Gretchen & the Night Danger, Director: Steve Collins, U.S.A. 26 min

The longest, boring sometimes. Too much use of Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, although deliberatedly. Gretchen looks like 30 instead of a teenager. She can’t stand her biker boyfriend treating her like trash, but she just can’t break up with him, and had to lie to her caring but careless mother all the time. In the end she learns to choreograph, and created a surprisingly wonderful dance showing her paradoxical relationship with her boyfriend.

Sometimes the shot is out of focus without a good reason. The lighting doesn’t look nice. Good story, still.

5. The Climactic Death of Dark Ninja, Director: Peter Craig, U.S.A. 12 min

A funny scene about a bunch of teenage boys making the “climatic” scene of a ninja movie with nothing going right, something the director did himself, as he confessed. The camera moves smoothly, but the actors seem a bit fake.

6. I Was a Mathlete Until I Met Margo Marris, Director: Joe Denk, U.S.A., 18 min

A stereotypical high school scene, where the funky Margo Marris moves in town and the boy falls for her. Almost the whole story is told by offscreen voice, leaving little room for the camera and dialogue.

7. Great Lengths, Director: Dara Resnik, U.S.A., 20 min

Another stereotypical story about a boy converting to Jewish for the Jewish girl he loves. He finally bails out at circumcision, but she comes back to him for his efforts anyway. The director says it’s based on her and her boyfriend’s real life experience. The film is nicely made, though.

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We went to Lily’s for a quick lunch, took a walk to the riverside, watched some kids play a baseball game (it’s fun! We should do it sometime), then headed back for the Green Hat. It’s a very strange movie, sometimes brillant, sometimes way too slow, sometimes nonsensical. It’s like 爱情麻辣烫 in a very twisted way. It started out with a short clip from a cul-revol documentary showing Chairman Mao and millions of Red Guards at Tianan Men, everybody wearing a green hat. What followed is two stories about love and betrayal.

After the movie, we couldn’t resist the fine weather so we decided to take a walk to the storied Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a long nice walk from Tribeca to the middle of the bridge. I need to learn more about the history and myth of the bridge, otherwise it’s just a plain old looking structure.

Afterwards we went to Sweet and Tart in Chinatown to cap off the afternoon. A great trip would never be complete without great food. Wonderful afternoon, wonderful City.

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