I Finally Watched the Final Five

Yesterday my summer cold kept me out of the office and in bed, which means I finally got to watch a bit of the Summer Olympics… only two days after the closing ceremony. I watched some men’s and women’s swimming and women’s gymnastics, just a couple of hours in all. The ever-reliable Bob Costas commentated on NBC, the American TV channel that airs the Olympics. Like his entertainment counterparts Ryan Seacrest and Nagui, he is ubiquitous, sometimes a bit cheesy, and a complete pro. He’s hosted the Olympics since I started watching them.

Two weeks prior, I was standing on the subway platform after a night with Klimt at the Neue Galerie and wine with two friends on a friend’s rooftop when I realized that I had forgotten to record the opening ceremony, which was airing at that moment. I enjoy watching the opening ceremony—it’s the time when the inevitable controversies leading up the Olympics are set aside for a brief moment for people from different countries to come together, feel inspired, and soak in the atmosphere of something greater and longer-standing than themselves. I love seeing the variety in attire, looks, and sizes of the teams as they wave their flags and their countries are announced in English, French, and the host country’s language. It’s the beginning, where hope reigns before wins and losses have accumulated and more scandals have broken out due to drug use or misconduct (lying about being robbed, really? Way to represent the USA). Every participating group gets a chance to showcase their best athletes. We finally see what the host country has been spending its money on and how it wants to present itself to the world. I didn’t watch Rio’s this year—tant pis.

I guess I’ll never be as excited for the Summer Olympics as I was when the Magnificent Seven competed in 1996. The U.S. women’s gymnastics team, they were seven teenage girls, all a few years older than me, and I knew all of their names. Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes (“Awesome Dawesome”), Amy Chow, Dominique Moceanu, Amanda Borden, Jaycie Phelps, and of course, little Kerry Strug, who vaulted into the spotlight by clinching the team gold while injured. There was a lot of talent, a lot of drama, and a lot of tears during those games. There’s nothing quite like being a kid and looking up to these amazing athletes who now look like kids to me.

Small Talk

The line to see Klimt’s Adele snaked around the block outside of the Neue Galerie across from Central Park. It wasn’t as much of a hassle as it seemed. The wait was only twenty minutes and brought me this nugget of conversation with the employee who manned the line as I snacked rather discreetly, I thought.

“What is that, bread?”
Mouth full, “And cheese.”
“Yeah, it looks good, you’re killing it over there.”

Ten minutes later, as he waved me through to the next section of the line, with a feigned warning look even though I had nothing in my hands:
“Put the bread away.”
“It’s all gone, in my stomach.”

I was eating just sliced wheat bread, nothing special, and I’m pretty sure he couldn’t see the cheese. What does killing it even mean in this context? Sometimes we just make conversation for the sake of it, I think. I’m down with that.

Mad House

Recently two friends and I visited the exhibit “Studio Job MAD HOUSE” at the Museum of Arts and Design at Columbus Circle in New York City. I’m always a bit unsure about suggesting modern or contemporary art exhibits to people who aren’t already interested in those periods or who express bafflement over why a blank canvas is in a museum. I am not a fan of all contemporary art—it is so varied—but I am open to seeing something new and if I don’t like it, all the better to discuss why afterwards.

Entrance to MAD is free on Thursday evenings, so I figured that this would be the perfect time to visit it for the first time with a college friend who enjoys art and a friend who is from France, living in New York for two months, and interested in being introduced to the city.

The exhibit is a collaboration by Belgian artist Job Smeets and Dutch artist Nynke Tynagel.

Welcome to the MAD HOUSE. 101_0940

You may have seen artist René Magritte’s late 1920s painting featuring a pipe and the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This is not a pipe). When I studied it in college, we talked about how the pipe was not an actual pipe, but rather a painting of a pipe. According to the label for the above piece at MAD, the “cast-bronze sculpture plays with the same idea, that all visual representations are inherently abstract; it is neither a table nor a pipe.” Isn’t it a table, though? Concept aside, it was aesthetically pleasing.

101_0942101_0946My friend asked me to take a picture of him in front of this eye-catching tower, made in 2013-2014. “Over twelve feel tall, this clock and lamp features a cast-bronze King Kong, covered with 120,000 Swarovski crystals, scaling a silver-leafed Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building, in Dubai), which projects from a cast-bronze Petra, the ancient city in Jordan).”

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This is a replica of the Chartres cathedral turned on its side. It also functions as a closet.

As you may expect, the Chartres cathedral isn’t actually these colors. There was something sinister about seeing the black church laid on its side.

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To my delight and slight surprise, my friend who claimed to dislike modern and contemporary art loved the exhibit. We all enjoyed walking around the pieces and pointing out quirks only apparent upon further examination. The rooms of sculpture-objects that combined form and function were whimsical and weird, light and heavy, solid yet fantastical.

At the exhibit, I saw two separate people that I knew wandering around. I was pretty surprised considering that the museum wasn’t that crowded. One of them joined us later for a casual hearty dinner outside near Rockefeller Center. At one point, one of the French guys in our group looked up at the towering skyscrapers around us, smiled, and said, “This is so New York.” I could practically see the stars in his gaze. The other guy agreed enthusiastically, and they relished it for a while. I suddenly saw myself in Paris and how I must have looked to my friends when we crossed a bridge at night and I sighed, “I love bridges here.” Romance in the eyes, awe in one’s exhale. Not to say that I don’t love New York or where I’m from—I do—but I would never say something like “This is so New York” in the context we were in. I’d be more likely to say that if I accidentally bumped into a stranger on the street and they cursed me out.

Love, Actually

I know I’m not the only one who feels like the world is going down the tubes. I can’t even keep up with all the bad news. Pain and violence rule the news, and it’s not sensationalism, it’s what’s really happening.

In spite of it all, I’ve had some happy events in my own life in the past couple of months, and I hope you have too. To celebrate a recent achievement, I ventured out into the summer heat to treat myself to a bottle of perfume I have had my eye on for a while (i.e. years). It wasn’t so much that I didn’t have money in the bank to purchase it. It’s just not in my habit to buy luxury items. Plane tickets are different—I expect them to be expensive and have naturally incorporated travel into the purchases that I consider “essential.”

As I stood in front of the counter at Jo Malone and watched the employee pull a long piece of ribbon from a roll and snip it to tie up the classy cream and black box, I was reminded of the scene in “Love Actually” where Alan Rickman agitatedly watches Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) take eons to wrap up an expensive piece of jewelry. After placing it in a box and tying it up in ribbon, he puts it in a clear bag, bends down to scoop up small roses from the drawer behind the counter and drop them into the bag with a flourish (twice), adds some lavender sprigs, and crushes some of the lavender over the whole mix. The final touch is a cinnamon stick. Well, almost final. When Atkinson takes out a big “Christmas box” to place the whole thing in and puts on a yellow glove to prepare the holly, Rickman flips out and rushes away, having to get back to his wife who cannot find out about this gift not meant for her.

Unlike Rickman’s character, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the wrapping process, as the perfume was not meant for a secret lover, but for myself. Nothing like celebrating guilt-free.

On my walk to the boutique, I chose a path that would lead me by Stonewall Inn, which two weeks prior President Obama had designated a new national monument after the shootings in Orlando. There were police officers standing across the street—more than usual—and people sitting the small, quiet intersection park nearby.

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A block or two away, a billboard above an old-fashioned storefront promoted a message of harmony and diversity. What a simple concept that seems so hard to practice universally.

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Make Music New York

Fête de la Musique was my favorite day of the year in Paris. Last month I made it a point to seek out events in the States. It was nothing like dancing like crazy in the Marais with a good friend, but I made do.

Here it was called Make Music New York. None of my friends knew it existed, but it is a legit event all over the city. There was a web site listing lots of outdoor concerts in numerous neighborhoods, and you could filter by area, time, and genre of music.

I invited a friend to check out an experimental piano concert in Greenwich Village during lunchtime. Unlike in Paris, we didn’t run into musical performances along the way, but we did find the pianos set up in the middle of the street. It definitely was experimental, not at all classical pieces or contemporary songs. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but it was nice to sit on a ledge on the sidewalk in the summer weather. That is kind of how Fête de la Musique can be anyway, hit or miss, though ideally you see enough performances that some of them are awesomely soul-filling.

That evening, I handpicked an a cappella group to continue the Fête and cobbled together a group of three friends, old and new, who had never met each other. We joined the small audience sitting in front the group. I have a feeling that I enjoyed the performance the most, although they did make positive remarks afterward. I just really think there are few things better than live music outdoors. We were surrounded by tall buildings and a sky that began to pinken.

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Poetry in Motion

If you step on the New York subway, you may notice the Poetry in Motion series. Generally a subway ride is not very poetic, so all the more I appreciate a piece that makes me cock my head and feel something.

What Do You Believe A Poem Shd Do?

by Ntozake Shange  b. 1948

quite simply a
poem shd fill you
up with something/
cd make you swoon,
stop in yr tracks,
change yr mind,
or make it up.
a poem shd happen
to you like cold
water or a kiss.

Park Vignettes

I was sitting in a city park doing the metro newspaper crossword puzzle when three Asian girls approached my bench. One sat down to my right, while the other two stood to my left. I thought it was a bit strange since the seated girl still had space next to her for the other two to sit, but I looked up anyway to see if they were hoping I’d shift over. The girl seated next to me held up a half-finished Sudoku. She pointed to it, nodded her head, and said, “Yeaaah” while smiling a cheesy grin. I gave her the kind of tentative smile and wide-eyed glance you reserve for strangers who may be a little off their rocker. Odd, but okay, perhaps she wanted to celebrate our mutual success, however incomplete it was. She said, “Picture?” and gestured to her companion standing to my left. I turned and saw the friend’s camera phone pointed at us. I looked back to the girl who had spoken to me and asked, “Is this for a scavenger hunt?” “Huh?” she responded. They didn’t speak English. “For fun?” I tried again. “For fun,” she parroted, nodding, though it wasn’t clear that she actually understood what I had asked. Giving up, I did the only remaining thing to do– smile for the camera while we both held up our puzzles. They went away happily while I was left wondering what had just happened.

~ ~ ~

A week later, in the park again, I chose a shady bench to read my book. In spite of its position under a towering tree, the bench was spotless. I wasn’t reading for very long when I heard a splat. One foot away from my foot, there was a fresh splotch of bird poop. While slightly perturbed, I delighted at my luck to have avoided it. If I had sat just slightly to the right, I would have been running to wash my foot at that moment. I’m not naive, though, bird poop can come in a series. I ran my hand over my hair and, finding it untouched, again congratulated myself on my narrow escape.

Half an hour later, I was sitting at my desk, happened to look down, and what did I see but… bird poop near the bottom of my skirt. I ran to the bathroom and frantically grabbed paper towels and repeatedly scrubbed my skirt with soap and water. Satisfied, I returned to my office with a big water stain my skirt. No matter. I had planned to go see a colleague with a question, but it could wait half an hour while the water dissipated.

~ ~ ~

Sometimes even I marvel at my glamorous life.

Bordeaux

Around this time last year I took a weekend trip to the city of Bordeaux with five friends. I had just come back to Paris from attending my sister’s graduation in the States, and it was the perfect way to mitigate the sadness of leaving my American home. One friend had found cheap train tickets weeks earlier and in her knack for organizing groups, gotten four of us to commit to a specific weekend and a rental apartment she had found online.

After four and a half hours on the train, we arrived in Bordeaux midday. During our relatively quiet walk from the train station to the apartment, a French man on a scooter zoomed up from the opposite direction and stopped next to us. He said my friend’s name in the form of a question. She answered in the affirmative, and we quickly realized that he was not a stalker who had followed her from Paris, but the owner of the apartment. He was afraid we would get lost on the way to his place and so had come to look for us (clearly this was not Paris, where looking for five girls with suitcases would have yielded too many results).

He needn’t have feared because we were just fine. Realizing this, he said, “Ok, à tout de suite !” and turned around to drive back to his apartment and wait for us.

Upon our arrival at the apartment, we were greeted by him and his partner (wife?), who each made their rounds with the five of us to faire la bise. That out of the way, they gave us a tour and chatted with us a bit. Of course, we didn’t know them personally, but without knowing their real life problems, we could have easily believed they were living the dream life. They were both tall, good-looking, had a child, owned a beautiful, beautiful apartment with a backyard deck, and were off to Paris for the weekend to celebrate his brother’s birthday. They were like those magazine feature articles of celebrities. Like those stars who are interviewed at home, they were not wearing fancy clothes, but casual clothes that still made them look effortlessly chic. Good grief.

After cool couple relinquished the keys, we were free to let the excitement bubble over at our place for the weekend. As the weather was warm, we shed our Parisian scarves and sweaters before heading out into the sunshine.

On our way to the center, I was charmed by this small lending library. I have seen one of these in New Jersey too, in exactly the same type of enclosed shelf.
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The main streets were animated, with a multitude of restaurants, bars, and shops (including a shoe store with the amusing English name of “Size?”). After an unfortunately mediocre lunch, we continued our exploration of the city. 100_8254100_8256100_8259100_8263100_8264100_8266100_8268100_8270100_8272100_8273100_8275

Our day closed with a dinner that made up for our midday meal. Triple threat: the service, food, and ambiance were all good. My positive opinion was clinched by a dish featuring duck served three ways. I never said I believe in restraint when it comes to food. Moderation, yes, but decadence too.

We took a nighttime walk and had a quick drink at a high table outside a bar before calling it a day. Day one of a luxuriously lovely yet inexpensive weekend with four fun girls, pas mal.

People sometimes ask me where I would like to live in France if not Paris. I love getting acquainted with different regions but never had a desire to live in another French city. However, since visiting southwestern France I usually have to add, “But… I could maybe see myself in Bordeaux.” The main streets were lively and the weather was amazing. Sure part of the reason why we were so relaxed was that we were on a brief getaway from daily life, but it was also that Bordeaux had a laidback vibe that was conducive to loosened muscles and sandals flapping against the sidewalk.

What is Finished?

Recently a friend and I met up a week after my oral surgery (three wisdom teeth extracted, story for another day) to have lunch and visit the new Met Breuer Museum in Manhattan. The Breuer resides in the building that used to house the Whitney Museum of American Art, which moved downtown. A new space of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Breuer is described as “Modern and contemporary art through the lens of history” on its brochure. From scanning an article online about it beforehand, I didn’t pick up on the “through the lens of history” aspect, so I was surprised when their exhibits displayed works by the likes of Michelangelo (who lived from 1475 to 1564).

The exhibit “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible” was fascinating; it featured works, mostly paintings, that were unfinished. Some were studies deliberately incomplete, some were unfinished due to the artist’s poor health or death, and some we do not know why they were never done.

We are used to modern and contemporary paintings looking “unfinished” even when they are finished due to their often abstract and conceptual nature. However, perceiving roughness and a sketched quality in paintings from periods such as the Renaissance was like seeing a model without makeup. How surprising to see the inner workings of a piece that are usually covered up and invisible to the eye.

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Attributed to Gonzales Coques, possibly 1640s

 

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Anton Raphael Mengs, 1775

 

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Sir Thomas Lawrence, circa 1803-5

 

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Gustav Klimt, 1917-18

The Breuer has three floors of exhibits and a coffee bar on the fifth floor, which we stopped at for a sit before walking to Grand Central. I toted my leftovers from the Thai restaurant we had eaten lunch at earlier that day, whose ceiling was adorned by colored lamps. 101_0208

Museums, unlike the ever-changing restaurants and cafes in the city, often seem like permanent fixtures. In fact they are like other businesses in that they were once established and can change hands and move to another neighborhood altogether. How funny that years from now I can say we visited the Breuer’s first exhibit.