You can look at my home page for more information, but the short answer is that I'm a dilettante who likes thinking about a variety of subjects. I like to think of myself as a systems-level thinker, more concerned with the big picture than with the details. Current interests include politics, community formation, and social interface design. Plus books, of course.
The last days of New York (March 29-31)
Nothing too exciting to report on my last few days in New York. On Tuesday, March 29, I wrote up a few book reviews in the morning, and headed over to see the Guggenheim Museum in the afternoon. I don't think I'd visited the Guggenheim before, so seeing the space was a wonderful experience. I loved the big skylights, the way the various galleries flow into and through each other, and the way you can often peek into galleries from a floor above or below. It plays with the space, and I just love that. So yay.
I wasn't all too impressed with the main exhibit by Daniel Buren, the centerpiece of which is two large mirrored walls installed in the main circular atrium, forming a corner. It looks kind of neat, especially from the angles where it almost perfectly reflects the atrium, forming a complete circle, but it doesn't really do much for me. And his work with repetitive stripes is just dull. I did like what he did with the secondary atrium, where he covered the windows with colored films - you can see the splashes of colored light on the right.
None of the rest of the art on display was too exciting. I think they were between exhibits because the main spiral was devoid of art, which is not normally the case. The permanent galleries had some good early modernist work. I did like the work of Franz Marc, particularly Stables (seen at left) and Broken Forms, as well as Robert Delaunay's Eiffel Tower. Of the Kandinsky collection, I liked their initial acquisition, Composition #8, the best. Having realized my artistic preferences while I was visiting the Met, it was amusing to see how all of the stuff that caught my eye fit those criteria. I'm so predictable.
The next day (Wednesday, March 30), I went out to lunch with a friend of a friend at Junior's deli in the Grand Central Station food concourse. There was an enormous amount of meat on my reuben. Yummy, but almost painfully too much food. I'm such a lightweight these days. It was a gorgeous day, sunny and with a high of 60 degrees, so I headed uptown to explore the northern half of Central Park, which I'd never done. I started off walking around the reservoir, which I captured in a landscape photo above, and then just kind of wandered around for a bit, by the ice rink (sponsored by Trump!), the ornamental gardens, and the Harlem Meer (Meer is apparently Dutch for lake). It was fun to see all the different people out in the park, from the mothers walking their kids, to the joggers, to the guy practicing his golf swing with what looked like whiffle golf balls, all enjoying the weather.
Afterwards, I wandered by the immense Cathedral of St. John the Divine, since I was in the area. It's in bad shape, having suffered a fire a few years ago, but its sheer bulk is astonishing. I took off my headphones when I walked in, and then had a better idea, firing up the Requiem of Tomas Luis de Victoria, as performed by the Tallis Scholars. That was cool, walking around this enormous space with this amazing music playing in my ears.
Then back down the island to check out an art exhibition my parents had told me about called Ashes and Snow. It's this guy who's spent the last 13 years going around the world and staging photographs of people with animals in a way that's meant to evoke the fundamental interconnectedness of us all - you can see a bunch of examples on the website. But I thought it was pretty lame. I felt that it was designed to tug on the emotional heartstrings, with wide-eyed children sitting near elephants, falcons, jaguars and other animals. But it felt overtly manipulative to me, sentimental pablum, with the emotional depth of a Hallmark card. I hate being manipulated. I had to blast Nine Inch Nails on my headphones for thirty minutes afterward to scour my brain out.
I hit the Life Cafe for dinner. The place where I was staying was two doors down from the Life Cafe, and I'd been thinking of stopping there my entire time in New York, but it was finally clinched when I noticed the poster for the musical Rent, with a comment that they were mentioned in a song. I was like, "Wait a second! I know that song!", at the end of the first act, where they all go to the Life Cafe to hang out and drink "Wine and Beer!". So I had to go there. It was okay. I had a draft Guinness and a bowl of chili. But the Rent connection is pretty amusing.
The next day was my last day in New York, at least this time around. It was another relatively nice day, so after I finished packing up, I wandered down through the Lower East Side to go walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, because I thought that'd be cool. I was walking along the way I thought I needed to go when I saw a sidewalk up onto the bridge. Excellent. I started walking out over the river, and got a good five minutes before I realized I was on the wrong bridge. Oops. This was the Manhattan bridge, not the Brooklyn Bridge. So I retraced my steps, walked further, found the right bridge and walked it. For future reference, Brooklyn Bridge has the pedestrian walkway down the center where you can see stuff. The Manhattan Bridge has a bikeway suspended underneath the bridge, next to the subway tracks, where you can't see anything.
It's a pretty walk, with good views of the New York skyline. Plus the bridge itself is a great piece of engineering. And walking across the bridge had the added (uncoincidental) bonus of delivering me to near where Grimaldi's is, a pizzeria located under the bridge on the Brooklyn side. I'd read a couple good reviews of the place (the Zagat survey rates it as the best in New York), and I had realized that I hadn't had real New York thin crust pizza in my time in New York, which was unacceptable. This was good stuff. I don't remember the pizza we had at John's Pizzeria well enough to compare, alas, but both places are darn good. Grimaldi's was absolutely packed, which makes sense since it was the tail end of lunch hour, but a bit surprising, because there really didn't seem to be anything else around it, so I wondered where all the people were coming from. Anyway, I ordered a 16" pizza (they didn't do slices), and ate 2/3 of it, which was a bit much. The advantage was that it solved the question of what I was going to do for dinner at the airport, since I now had leftovers.
Then back to the apartment for a final once-over, grab the bags, and head out on the subway to JFK and thence back to my life in the Bay Area. I had a great time in New York. I think this trip might have been long enough. I did pretty much everything I had planned to in New York, and I'm ready to sleep in my own bed again. I'm not quite ready to deal with going back to work, but that's the way it goes. Gotta pay for this vacation somehow.
P.S. I wrote most of this entry on the plane. Yay laptop. I had been planning to read a bunch more of Latour's book, but the reading light was busted for my seat, which was a first for me, and so when they turned out the lights, I didn't have a lot of choices. I worked on this entry, napped a bit, I read some of a social software essay I had downloaded, I rewatched "After the Sunset", which doesn't really make any more sense the second time around, I listened to music. Plane rides without reading suck. On the other hand, I read the book on the BART ride home, and I only was able to struggle through about ten pages. Man, that book is dense.
P.P.S. The trip home was a delightful(?) conglomeration of transit options. I left the New York apartment, walked the half mile to the subway, took the subway to near the JFK airport, took the "AirTrain" from the subway stop to the airport terminal, took a plane from JFK to SFO, took BART from SFO to the Macarthur stop, and took a taxi home rather than carry my suitcase for that last mile. Trains, planes, and automobiles, oh my.
posted at: 00:31 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /journal/events/nyc | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
Henry Rollins and Cornell (March 24-28)
Thursday, March 24, was pretty much a lost day. I was worn out from too many days of sight-seeing and meeting people, and the weather wasn't great, so I found it difficult to drag myself out. I did a bunch of blog updates in the morning, punted around a bit in the afternoon, and finally headed out in the late afternoon. I walked up Fifth Avenue, admiring the Empire State Building, before heading over to the Theater District to see if I could get a ticket to see Henry Rollins in his new show. I didn't really know anything about Rollins, but a friend of mine had told me that Rollins was going to be doing shows in New York while I was here, and recommended that I check him out. So I did.
Excellent stuff. Rollins calls himself a spoken-word artist, which basically meant that he got up on stage, and ranted for two and a half hours straight. And he was utterly engrossing the entire time. Whether he was railing against the Bush administration, or describing the seven day plus two hours that he spent on the Trans-Siberian railway, or spending thirty minutes leading up to the "time I was funny", where the punchline is anticlimactic, but the thirty minutes of storytelling was wonderful, or how he went on a USO tour, and then visited injured soldiers in hospitals in Washington DC, he was always interesting. And it's hard to do that. Well worth seeing, if you get the chance.
Friday morning, my friend Jofish picked me up. We stopped by his friend's art installation at a gallery in Chelsea (one of many I didn't get to), and then headed off to Cornell, where he's a grad student. Batman drove down from Toronto to meet us, and we spent the weekend talking and eating and drinking, hence the lack of blog updates. I met some of Jofish's cohort of grad students, and it was fun discussing the research that people were doing. I don't think I'm ready to go back to grad school yet, but I could see it as a possibility in the right situation. Something in the space of science and technology studies, maybe. Or something about the intersection between social practices and computers.
Monday morning, it was miserable and raining, and since Jofish had a ton of work to do, Batman and I decided to clear out, him driving back to Toronto, and me taking the bus back to NYC. At Ithaca, the bus only had about ten people on it, and I stretched out and it was quite nice. When we hit Binghamton, though, the bus filled up, with every seat taken, so that was less fun. But the bus got back to New York in about five hours, which wasn't so bad, although I was amused to realize that it took the same amount of time to take a bus from western New York to NYC as it does to take a flight from San Francisco. Distance just doesn't mean anything any more.
The other nice thing about the bus trip was that I finished off Me++ (Man, I'm like three book reviews behind at this point - maybe tomorrow morning) and picked up Latour's Politics of Nature, where I slogged through the really dense 20 pages necessary to figure out what's going on, where he does a four page overview of the book, with 15 pages of term definitions. I think I have a grasp on the overall thesis of the book now, so I think I'm going to be able to tackle the rest of the book now. But man, reading through that hypertextually linked glossary was hard - the perfect task for a cramped bus ride on a rainy day where there's nothing to see.
So, yeah. Back in New York City. I've got two and a half days left before I return to my normal life. Kinda scary. I haven't even started on a couple of the things I said I was going to do on this vacation, like lay out the outline for the cognitive subroutines book. Man. I need to buckle down.
posted at: 23:40 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /journal/events/nyc | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
The Met (Wednesday, March 23)
I'd been saving the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a rainy day, and Wednesday definitely qualified. It wasn't just raining, it was snowing, and cold and miserable. A perfect day to spend inside. As usual, I got off to a late start, but it worked out fine. I got to the museum around 1:30pm, and spent the next four hours until the museum closed at 5:30 wandering around. Their collections are just too huge. I had to do some massive triage to even have a hope. So I ignored all sculpture and decorative arts, because I generally don't find those interesting. I punted on most of the art of other cultures, although I did walk through the big Egyptian temple, because that's just neat. So I mostly concentrated on the American wing and European paintings, with visits to old favorites like Arms and Armor, and Musical Instruments.
I had an insight into my own preferences while walking around the paintings. I realized that I didn't care for bright primary colors, for simplistic shapes, and for "realistic" depictions. Anything that seems to say "this is the way it is". I like having different perspectives, of having new ways of looking at things. I live in a world of grays, not in a world of black and white, right and wrong. So paintings that are slightly abstract, paintings that have a more muted palette with faded blues and greens and grays, those appeal to me. Not fully abstract. I still can't get into the work of Rothko or Pollock or anything. Anyway. It was interesting to me.
It was also fun to realize my eye for art is slowly improving. I was able to recognize the work of most of the masters like van Gogh and Monet. When I was walking through the American wing, I saw a painting and thought "Wow, that looks like JMW Turner's work." Then I read the little placard which said that the artist's use of light "suggests the artist's appreciation of the English master JMW Turner". It turns out there was a whole school of American landscape artists, the Hudson River School, whose work was heavily influenced by Turner, so I spent some time browsing that section, because I love that particular use of light, the way it is almost impressionistic in the way it illuminates a scene, as illustrated by the work by Thomas Cole seen to the right.
After getting kicked out of the museum at closing, I had to head crosstown to get to the dinner party I was going to attend. Rather than take the subway down, across and back up, I decided to brave the elements and walk across Central Park. It was a reminder of things I don't miss about the East Coast - by this point, the snow had accumulated enough on the warm ground to turn to slush. Yum! I made it across the park, found a cafe, and hung out there reading and warming up for a bit. Unfortunately, by the time I left, the snow was actually blowing sideways. I gave up on the umbrella as being useless in that strong a wind, and trudged through the slush off to my dinner party, where we ate good food and had interesting conversations until midnight, of which more in another post.
posted at: 11:11 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /journal/events/nyc | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
Chelsea art and Shockheaded Peter (March 22)
I spent the morning catching up on blogging, and blathering on about the meaning of power, before heading out at lunch time. It was a beautiful spring day, sunny and getting up to about 50 degrees or so. That, combined with the fact that my one-week unlimited subway ride card had run out, convinced me to walk rather than take the subway. I walked from the East Village over to Chelsea again, and spent a couple hours wandering through the galleries there. Since it was a nice day, I wore my spiffy sportcoat, which immediately upgrades anything I wear it with. That plus the hip Adidas sneakers that I bought with my friend Wilfred, at least made me feel like I was dressed well enough to venture into these galleries and be taken seriously.
A few exhibitions that I thought were neat (again, this is mostly for my own recollection):
David LaChapelle had a really neat exhibition. He's a photographer - the exhibition had two sets of photographs, one with him staging somebody dressed as Jesus in a bunch of sketchy situations, like Jesus presiding over a gang meeting posed as the Last Supper, reminding us that Jesus spoke to and was with the outcasts of his day, the disenfranchised. The other was similarly stark but brightly colored stagings of what looked like a pimp and prostitute. Very colorful and somewhat shocking. Looking at his website, I really like the portrait work that he's done too.
I liked the black and white photography of Masato Okazaki. He starkly captures the decay of buildings, such as the piece to the left.
After that, I walked over to the Theater District. I'd had vague thoughts of trying to get rush tickets to Wicked or Avenue Q. The way it works for those two musicals is that you fill out an entry form for a lottery ticket, and then they pick the 12-20 lucky winners. I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but when I showed up, and saw the hundreds of people lined up to fill out the form, I punted. I walked over to the half-price booth to see what was available, and saw that they had tickets for Shockheaded Peter for 35% off, so I took one of those tickets. It turned out to be way in the back and off to the side, but the theater was small enough that it didn't matter.
I had wanted to see Shockheaded Peter when it came to San Francisco, but never got around to it. It had been described as subversive, sinister and stylish, all of which appealed to me. Alas, it was a disappointment. It's supposed to be shocking because it tells fractured morality tales where children misbehaved and are killed or punished. Like the girl who plays with matches and burns herself up. Or the boy who's told to stop sucking his thumbs and doesn't, and gets his thumbs cut off. But that's it. They tell you they're going to do that at the top of the show, and then they do it. There's nothing surprising, nothing even particularly whimsical about their presentation of the material. I wanted something that would make me involuntarily grin or be shocked or something. It was just kind of eh.
That being said, the production and staging was fabulous. This was a show that people who produce shows should see to note how a little can go a long way with some imagination. For instance, the bit with the girl burning herself up with matches. To simulate that, she had on a skirt, with a bunch of red-and-yellow colored underskirts. As she allegedly caught on fire, she started lifting her outer skirt a bit, so that the red poked through, and then started dancing around the stage, with her lifting the skirt higher and higher, until it was over her head and all you saw was the red and yellow underskirts. And then she jumped into a stage trapdoor. Creative and simple staging of something that could have been done very poorly.
There were lots of nice little touches like that, with effective use of paper cutout scenery and dropping things from the top of their set. But the stories they were telling were just not interesting enough to me. Maybe I just didn't get it. Alas.
posted at: 10:30 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /journal/events/nyc | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
Lazy couple days (March 20 and 21)
After staying out til 2am the previous couple nights, I ended up sleeping in until noon on Sunday morning. I had kind of planned that - the weather forecast had said that it was going to be cold and rainy on Sunday, so I figured I should get my fun in while I could. I puttered around the apartment for a bit and did some laundry, before heading out to meet up with the sister of a friend. We hung out at a Belgian frites place in the Village, had a couple beers, went out for falafel, and then she headed home, because she's working as a teacher, so had to be up early.
Monday was more of the same. Cloudy, not quite raining, and cold. Again, I ended up puttering around the apartment a lot, playing with some blog entries and reading. There's nothing to do in New York on a Monday, it turns out. All the museums are closed, except for the Guggenheim, whose website said that half their space was closed in preparation for opening a new exhibition this weekend. Broadway is shut down as well, so no plays in the evening. I was at a loss for what to do.
I did eventually drag myself out, and over to Katz's Delicatessen, made famous by the scene from When Harry met Sally (they have a little sign over the table that says "I hope you have what she's having!"). I got a pastrami on rye, and, wow, it was good. Thick slabs of juicy hot pastrami. Simple, but yummy.
I headed over to Times Square, where I stopped by the AXA Gallery, which has a retrospective on Times Square after one hundred years. It has pictures of Times Square over the past century, from the initial excitement of movie theaters and electronic signs, through the down years of porn theaters and crime, and the renovation back into a place safe for the whole family. Kind of neat. I didn't know that Times Square was named as such when the New York Times put their offices there for a while back in the early 20th century, for instance.
After seeing the Tim Hawkinson exhibit at the Whitney last week, I wanted to check out the Uberorgan installation in Midtown. So I stopped by there in time to see the 6pm performance. It's basically a music box/player piano, blown up to be absolutely immense. Kinda neat.
Then I spent some time browsing at a bookstore called Rizzoli, and then off to grab a hot chocolate before heading to the evening's entertainment, a performance at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall, featuring the music of John Adams. I'm torn about John Adams - some of his stuff is amazing, and some of his stuff is just kind of there. And that impression was reinforced by this concert.
He was apparently in town for a program where they select some up-and-coming young musicians and have them work with a modern composer on one of his pieces. This year's composer was John Adams, and the piece was Chamber Symphony. To fill out the program, they had a few other short works by Adams, and a session where a Carnegie director interviewed Adams for a while on stage. I always find it interesting to hear what was in the composer or artist's mind, so I liked that part, especially with the works being played immediately afterwards. For instance, his work for two pianos, Hallelujah Junction, was inspired by an intersection near his cabin of the same name. He loved the name, wanted to write a piece to go with it, so he started with the most famous Hallelujah, the Hallelujah chorus from the Messiah. And when he says that, the music makes much more sense, as you catch the allusions to the chorus in his work.
Of the pieces themselves, I really liked Hallelujah Junction. The two pianos playing together and drifting into and out of sync reminded me of Music for 18 Musicians, a piece I adore. And I also liked Road Movies, a work for violin and piano, which probably had a lot to do with the spectacular violinist, Leila Josefowicz, who reminded me of Lauren Flanigan in the way she threw her entire body into the music, wrestling it into submission. Adams himself noted that sometimes the composer gets too much credit, and that she and the pianist took the piece beyond what the notes on the page alone were.
The second half wasn't nearly as compelling. I didn't like either American Berserk, a work for solo piano, or the Chamber Symphony. There was lots going on, and the performances were technically excellent, but the music didn't have the same core as the first half, I thought. It was great to see the young performers in Chamber Symphony, though - they were clearly having a blast, and they were pretty darn good.
Overall, it was a worthwhile experience - Zankel Hall was a really great space, seating about 500 people underneath the main Carnegie performance hall. It was much smaller and more intimate, and that was appropriate for the night's performance; even though I bought tickets at the last minute, I was in the 13th row (of 20), and had a great view. I was introduced to a couple pieces that I really enjoyed - I'm likely to get Road Movies, the CD that features Hallelujah Junction and Road Movies, using the performers I saw. So, yay.
posted at: 09:40 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /journal/events/nyc | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
Carmen (March 18)
Apologies for the out of order entries here. This actually happened before the last entry, but I wanted to write about the play immediately while it was fresh in my brain. So now we're back to Friday, where I spent the morning sorting out my back entries and going to the coffeehouse and uploading a whole slew of stuff. I should note that a lot of the detail in these entries is for my own benefit. Years from now, when I want to remember "Hey, where was that restaurant with the soup dumplings?" or "What was the name of that artist I liked?", I can go back to these entries. I don't necessarily expect them to be of interest to anybody else.
After dealing with the blog stuff, I headed uptown to see how the Squid:Labs sculpture turned out. Pretty excellent. You can see the fully operational sculpture at the left; the way it works is that if you pluck any of the blue cords, a signal is sent to the computer housed in the spool at the lower left, and a tone sounds. There's also visual feedback on the screen in the spool of how hard you're pulling the rope. It's pretty neat. On the right, you get a better sense of how the ropes are attached between the pillars in a spline-like skew pattern. I don't know how to describe it any better than that. But very neat. I'm sure the kids are going to absolutely love playing with this thing when the exhibit opens next month.
Afterwards, I wandered across Central Park, and poked around the Upper West Side for a while. And, as long as I was over there, I picked up a dozen bagels from H&H bagels, since they're, y'know, awesome. Back down the island, I stopped by the Times Square half-price booth to see what was available, but nothing really appealed.
I was okay with taking the night off, but then Sasha called me and said that he and his girlfriend Rena were going to see their friend sing in a production of Bizet's Carmen that evening at a church in Brooklyn. That sounded like a New York kind of thing to do, so I said sure. The production was remarkably good. I think the One World Symphony is an amateur orchestra, and it showed, but they tried hard. But the singers were very good. Okay, yes, I'm biased towards singers, but it also means I can be more critical of them. None of them had the kind of powerhouse voice necessary to make it in a full-size opera hall, but they had plenty of power for the church, and negotiated some fairly tricky passages with aplomb.
The staging was also quite well done, despite the lack of a stage. Just a big open space between the pews and the altar. The orchestra was on the left half, the singers on the right. No sets. No subtitles. But it worked. The description in the program was enough to help figure out the context, and the choreography and acting made it pretty clear as well.
Carmen is just fun. I'd never seen it before - I was thinking about it during the performance and realized I'd probably performed more operas than I'd seen - I think I've only been to the opera twice - I'd been to the Met last time I was in New York, and this time, whereas I've been in three semi-staged operas, I think (Dido and Aeneas at Stanford, The Flying Dutchman and Mlada with the Symphony). But even though I hadn't seen it, I knew the music. Everybody does, if you've watched Bugs Bunny. So it was fun - good music, good performance.
I also liked the sheer incongruity of it all. We're sitting in this beautiful old church in Brooklyn, watching an opera. If you'd walked by on the street, you would never have guessed. The floor would rumble regularly with the subway going underneath. But rather than detracting from the experience, it added to it, because it underscored the obstacles the performers were overcoming to make this performance happen. They were doing it because they loved music and wanted to make it happen. And I think that's great.
Afterwards, we went to Faan, an Asian fusion place near where Rena lived. She's a regular there, and so we had a blast, hanging out with the restaurant host and having some really excellent sushi. I think we got out of there after 1am, and then I took the subway home. Yay public transportation that doesn't require pumpkinulation at midnight. And also yay a city where even at 1:30 in the morning, the streets are still crowded with people, as they were on my walk back from the subway. In most parts of San Francisco, the streets are dead at 11pm, let alone at 1am. In the East Village, it's hopping until much later - I went to the midnight movie last night and lots of people were still out at 2am when I got out. Crazy stuff.
posted at: 15:05 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /journal/events/nyc | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
This Is How It Goes
I've been a fan of Neil LaBute's work since seeing the movie In the Company of Men, which I saw based on this review by James Berardinelli. I also saw Your Friends and Neighbors, and Nurse Betty, which didn't impress me as much, and his play, The Shape of Things, which was okay (and later also made into a film). LaBute's work all centers around the ruthless way in which we all manipulate each other to get what we want. It's sometimes painful, but always thought-provoking, because we can always recognize in ourselves the inclinations towards such behavior, even if we haven't taken it to the lengths that his characters do. By baldly stating some of the thoughts that we would never admit to thinking, LaBute forces us to confront our own inhumanity.
While perusing TimeOut, I noticed he had a new play out, This Is How It Goes, starring Ben Stiller, Amanda Peet, and Jeffrey Wright. It immediately shot to the top of the list of "shows I want to see in New York". So I managed to snag a rush ticket this evening. Obstructed view, but it was half price, and the view wasn't that obstructed. It was a great little theater, about 250 seats, with seats surrounding the thrust of the stage on three sides. So I was in the sixth row (of seven) all the way around towards the side, but since most of the action happened out on the thrust, that was no big deal. And it was kind of cool to be thirty feet away from movie stars like Peet and Stiller. Anyway.
The PR tagline is "LaBute trains his eye on a small town in America for what is billed as a 'new tale of manipulation, exploitation, race and infidelity,' through 'the story of an interracial love triangle.'" One white man, one white woman, and her black husband. I liked it a lot. Be warned, there are spoilers ahead, so if you're thinking of seeing this, and want to know nothing, you should probably stop here.
One of the things I liked about it was the bit I mentioned in my first paragraph above, where LaBute makes us, his audience, decidedly uncomfortable, by having our likable narrator, Ben Stiller, make horrid racist comments. The bit that makes it uncomfortable is that he makes them in his exposition of his thoughts, where he's speaking directly to the audience. We've all had awful thoughts. We might never admit it, but we do. Maybe not racist thoughts, but perhaps misogynistic thoughts or elitist thoughts - thoughts where we downgrade somebody to a stereotype, and treat them as an object, not a person. That guy that cuts us off in traffic? Asshole. Our conscience will almost immediately edit the thought and we would never say such things out loud, but they're there, lurking beneath the surface, as Stiller comments at one point. And to hear them, out loud, makes us uncomfortable, because it forces us to confront the awful things we think. That we, no matter how politically correct we aspire to be, still have a primate brain that is instinctually distrustful and hostile towards those that are not like us (as I put it in this post, "in an emotional sense, they aren't people to us. They don't evoke our rules of fairness. They are objects in the world, to be used and disposed of.")
Another thing I liked about the play was the fact that Stiller's character states at the very beginning that he's an unreliable narrator. He skips around in time, says things like "Oh, yeah, I should have mentioned this bit that happened two weeks before", etc. I just like meta-humor, so it works for me. And it works for the play, because it lets LaBute control how information gets dripped to the audience because, as usual, there's a twist.
I also liked how LaBute brings up the question at the end of whether the ends justify the means. If you had the opportunity to live "happily ever after", what would you be willing to do to make sure it happened. Would you lie? Steal? How far would you go to get the life that you feel you deserved? Is truth always the best policy? What is truth, anyway? Personally, I feel there are no moral absolutes. There are always exceptions. In each situation, several factors are in play, and which ones you value more highly will determine how you respond. (I can't resist - in cognitive subroutines speak, the prerequisite conditions for various moral precepts will vary from person to person). LaBute, or, rather, Stiller's character channeling LaBute answers the question the way most of us probably would, choosing happiness over a strict moral code.
On the way out of the play, they had posted a placard with a reproduction of a letter that LaBute got after the movie Nurse Betty. The writer said they were a fan of Renee Zellweger, and of LaBute's work, but that the part where Zellweger had kissed Morgan Freeman in the movie was unacceptable, and that left-wing activists like LaBute shouldn't put that sort of immoral stuff in people's faces, because most Americans think it's wrong, and that the writer was going to boycott LaBute's work and Zellweger's work from now on for having offended them. Wow. LaBute cites the letter as the inspiration for this play.
They also had an interview from TimeOut, which is not available online as far as I can tell. It had a great quote where the interviewer referred to LaBute's infamous tendency to avoid happy endings. LaBute's response: "Happy relationship, shitty play." Drama comes from conflict. You can see why I like this guy.
I wanted to get my thoughts down on the play while it was fresh in my head. Today I didn't do much that was exciting. I got off to a slow start, again, because I didn't get in til 2am last night (I'll write up yesterday tomorrow, because it's supposed to rain tomorrow), but I eventually dragged myself out because it was a sunny nice day. I wandered through Chinatown (and stopped for lunch at a place called Mandarin Court, and had what I think was my first significantly subpar meal in New York), then over through SoHo some more (where I put a bid in on a piece of art up for silent auction (seen at right) - I doubt I'll win it, but it was neat, and it was relatively cheap, and I figured what the hell), then up through a street fair in Greenwich Village, then back to my place for a break before heading out to dinner at a ramen house and off to the play. And now I'm psyching myself up to go catch a midnight showing of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which I really liked when it first came out, at the local independent theater, because midnight movies are always fun. Yeah.
posted at: 22:58 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /journal/events/nyc | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
Yup, I'm a dumbass
In case there was any question, it is confirmed that I am, in fact, a dumbass. When I got back to the apartment, and opened up the laptop, this time with wireless enabled, there were something like nine networks in sight, four of which were open access. Words don't describe how dumb I feel.
This would be a good excuse to pull a Don Norman, and complain about the idiotic user interface design of the wireless interface, which should be able to detect that the wireless is turned off, and should therefore tell me when I do "View available wireless networks" that "Hey, dumbass, turn on your wireless before you try that!" Except that I just realized that the wireless switch is probably a hardware switch put in by HP, and Windows doesn't talk to it. *sigh* I can't escape the derision I'm gonna get on this one.
posted at: 17:24 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /journal/events/nyc | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
So I've been writing entries on my laptop, but had not yet figured out how to get them uploaded to my site. My host has cable internet, but when I plugged his network cable into my laptop, I couldn't get a connection, probably because my MAC address doesn't match or some nonsense. And I couldn't find a wireless connection. This morning, I finally got around to wandering over to the local internet cafe, got a mocha and a croissant, and hung out here for an hour or so with my laptop uploading stuff.
Of course, I may have pulled another stupid Perlick trick. I got here, and knew that they had WiFi. But my laptop wasn't finding a network. I thought, "Huh. That's odd." Then I look down and realize that the wireless was turned off on my laptop - I'd turned it off before getting on the airplane in San Francisco in case I had wanted to play with my computer during the flight. Why I thought that would happen on a red-eye flight is beyond my current comprehension. I turned the wireless back on, and four networks show up. So when I go back to my apartment and find out that there's wireless available there, and all of this could have been avoided, I'm going to feel pretty damn stupid. If there is a wireless network over there. Which there probably is.
Even if there isn't, though, this is a pretty cool coffeehouse, so I may just end up spending mornings over here anyway.
posted at: 12:47 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /journal/events/nyc | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (March 17)
It was a relatively nice day, so I decided to spend it wandering the streets. In particular, I chose to go investigate the art galleries of Chelsea. First I had lunch at Bongo's Fry Shack, which was recommended by last week's TimeOut magazine, but which was disappointingly overpriced and not very good, as this review indicates.
Then it was off to find the galleries, which took me a while. I had the address of one, and it turned out to be almost at the western edge of the island. The first one wasn't very interesting (Amy Globus at D'Amelio Terras), but then I found another, which also wasn't very interesting, but had a map of the local galleries, so I found the dense concentration of galleries on 23rd and 24th between 10th and 11th Ave. That was fun - I just wandered into each one, glanced a bit at the work, and moved on. There were a few art students doing the same, taking copious notes. The Gagosian Gallery had an exhibition of Damien Hirst's work, called The Elusive Truth. I've liked some of Hirst's other work, but this did nothing for me.
In fact, I really only saw one artist in any of the galleries that really appealed to me. That was Gordon Terry at the Mike Weiss Gallery. I particularly liked "Below the Moon and Above the Clouds", on that page. He had several relatively large scale paintings in that style of abstract swirls of color mixed together on translucent plexiglass. I wish I could analyze what made it work for me, but it definitely did. Alas, it is $12,000, so it will not be adorning my living room wall any time soon.
I then took the subway over to SoHo, and started walking around a few galleries there, killing some time before my friend A. arrived on the train from New Haven. Nothing really caught my eye, except for a store called Modern Stone, which had all sorts of neat stone products, from bookends to tables.
I met up with A. at Grand Central station at rush hour without a problem. Fortunately, I'm tall and easy to spot in crowds. We wandered around Times Square for a while just talking and catching up, had dinner at Pongsri Thai, which was quite tasty, and then went to see "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" at the Longacre Theatre, starring Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin. A. is in the Yale drama school, so he'd managed to score us free tickets during this preview week (one of the Yale drama professors did the costuming for the show). How cool is that?
I knew nothing about the play going in, other than it had been made into a movie and that it was a well-known play about people being awful to each other. I think my taste in movies such as In the Company of Men has inured me to such things, because it wasn't nearly as caustic as I'd expected. Then again, given that it was written in the 1960's, I can imagine it was absolutely shocking at that point. The production was quite good, as would be expected.
Whitney Museum (March 16)
Today I got off to a slow start. My fourth day in New York, and I'd already worn myself out. So I took the morning off, reading and relaxing. I ventured out for lunch, stopping by a Korean place I'd seen the night before in the East Village. I liked it - I got the stone bowl bi bim bop, which is one of my favorites.
After that, I headed uptown to the Whitney Museum. I got on the 6 train, which was the straight shot subway ride. Alas, there was a power outage or something uptown, so that line was shut down for a while, so I took another line up towards Carnegie Hall, and then had to suffer the horrors of having to walk through Central Park to the Whitney. That's sarcasm, by the way - walking through Central Park is one of my favorite parts of visiting New York. I was comparing it to Golden Gate Park in my head, and realized the thing that made Central Park seem more impressive to me. In Golden Gate Park, there are numerous places where you can be walking through the woods, and there's very little intrusion of city life. In Central Park, the city is always there, asserting itself by the skyscrapers rising in the distance above the trees. It's intimidating in a "You can never escape" sort of way, but also makes the park seem like a powerful gesture of defiance. And being the anti-authoritarian I am, I like gestures of defiance.
Anyway, I eventually wound my way to the Whitney. I'd read someplace online about an exhibition by Tim Hawkinson there that sounded intriguing, and my interest was only whetted when one of Dan's friends yesterday had raved about it. I'll let this review describe it, but I liked it. His sense of whimsy is infective, and his creations of electromechanical contraptions out of found junk is inspiring to a geek like me. I particularly liked his "Secret Sync" set of sculptures, where he built a set of clocks out of seemingly ordinary objects, like a Coke can where the can rotates such that the opening is the hour hand, and the pull tab is the minute hand, or a hairbrush with two almost-invisible hairs marking the time.
The rest of the museum wasn't as inspiring, alas. The other major exhibition was by Cy Twombly, whose work I just don't appreciate. It just looks like scribbling to me. I'm sure he had a big message, but it's not satisfying.
As far as the permanent collection, I liked the Calder collection, because Calder is just neat. They had a videotape of the Calder Circus, a set of wire figurines that he'd made and used to put on shows towards the beginning of his career, with trapeze artists flipping from one swing to the next. I also liked a work I saw by Stanton Macdonald-Wright, called "Oriental" or some such (seen at right). I'm not quite sure why; I think I liked the way it evoked shapes without quite making them explicit.
Afterwards, I walked back along Madison Avenue downtown. Madison Avenue is ridiculous. Every single high end designer I've heard of, and many I haven't, had big stores along there. I'm blanking on the names now, other than Prada, but it was highly impressive. A one stop shopping expedition for the fashion-conscious. Except that I'm not willing to spend that kind of money on clothes, so I just walked on by.
I wandered over to the Times Square area to try to get rush tickets to Shockheaded Peter. Like Patti Lupone a couple days ago, Shockheaded Peter had been in San Francisco and I'd missed it. But tickets are expensive. I knew rush tickets went on sale at 6pm, and I got to the theater at about 6:10. All gone. They explained to the woman in front of me that people had camped out since 3pm to get the tickets. I'll either have to pay up, or wait a long time. I'll have to think about it.
I decided to head back to my place to figure out what to do next. I tried getting to the most direct subway line at Times Square, and got caught in a massive crowd of people. It was awful. They had closed one of the walkways, so you had to walk through a crowded platform to get to the other line, and people were crowding onto the platform from both ends, so it was pretty much a disaster. A few cops showed up and eventually stood at the top of the stairs to the platform, blocking anybody from entering so that those of us trapped on the platform could escape. I took another way home.
I thought about getting tickets to the newest Neil Labute play, in the East Village, but I was pretty much dead on my feet at that point, so I just headed back and took the evening off. I have to pace myself if I'm going to make it through three weeks of this vacation.
posted at: 11:03 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /journal/events/nyc | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
Cooper-Hewitt and Squid:Labs (March 15)
My friends at Squid:Labs are doing an installation at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum for an exhibition on "Extreme Textiles". Their exhibit is called "Rope and Sound", and it's essentially a three-dimensional harp with three steel pillars each holding each other up with rope strung between them. The rope is Squid:Labs' electronic rope, so the ropes are going to be hooked up to a computer which will then play sounds or music as the ropes are plucked. Should be really neat when it all comes together.
Anyway, installation was happening this week, and they needed some help with the physical labor of actually assembling the thing. And when they found out I was going to be there on vacation, they asked me if I'd be willing to lend a hand. I said sure, figuring that it's not often one gets to help with a museum installation. And it was fun - we polished up the steel pillars, and then manhandled them into place on a scaffolding, which was needed because the sculpture is not self-supporting until a bunch of the ropes are tightened. Once in place, we started threading the ropes, which was a kind of a fun puzzle as we tracked down which ropes went where. A break for lunch, and then back for a few hours of tying knots and starting to tension the ropes, until the thing was stable. We removed the scaffolding, and voila. You can see a terrible picture taken with the Sidekick of it at this stage. I think I'll be using my camera rather than my Sidekick from now on. Dan was going to spend the rest of the week finishing the connections, and then working out the software for connecting sound to movement. I'm hoping to stop by on Friday to see the (hopefully) finished piece.
Afterwards, we went back to where they were staying near the lower tip of Manhattan, went out to dinner at one of the Indian restaurants along 6th St near 1st Ave, and then I called it a night.
posted at: 10:56 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /journal/events/nyc | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
MOMA and Patti LuPone (March 14)
Monday morning, I had a brief crisis, when I woke up and found that the screen on my Sidekick had failed. It turns out that a Sidekick without a screen is completely useless. I used my host's computer to find a nearby T-mobile store, and found out that my options were to (1) get a loaner phone and wait two weeks for a replacement, or (2) buy a new Sidekick II. Since I'd been thinking of getting a Sidekick II anyway, I decided to just spring for it. The transition was surprisingly painless - pop the SIM out of the old phone, pop it into the new phone, and all my information was there. Yay!
I read in TimeOut magazine that Patti Lupone was going to be doing her show, Lady with a Torch, at Carnegie Hall that evening, and that obstructed-view rush tickets were available at the box office for $10 starting at noon. I've adored Patti ever since singing behind her in Sweeney Todd, where she was just fabulous. I'd read about her new show last year when she was working on it in San Francisco, but when I found it was $100 or something outrageous, I decided to pass. However, for $10, I said sure.
From there, I decided to go to MOMA since I was in the area and since MOMA was pretty much at the top of my list of museums to see with the new redesign. On my way over, I stopped for lunch at a place called Joe's Shanghai, which had these cool soup dumplings, which look like regular pork dumplings until you bite into them and they essentially explode because there's soup inside. Took me a couple tries to figure out how to eat one without making a mess. They also had yummy scallion pies.
MOMA was fabulous. I love the new building. The collection was huge, but not as awe-inspiring as I'd imagined, partially because I've been spoiled by being a member of SFMOMA, which has regular rotating exhibitions of interesting modern work. For instance, I'd seen the epic scale photography of Andreas Gursky at SFMOMA, but was reminded of it by seeing it again at MOMA. Same for many of the great modern artists from Warhol to Pollock.
But the building was great. It's got a central atrium that goes all the way up to a skylight over the sixth floor. Many of the galleries have windows peeking out at the atrium, so you can get glimpses of the rest of the museum. It reminds me of the Chinese Tea Garden I saw in Sydney, with its sense of discovery, the way that views were framed to provide interesting perspectives on the space, with unexpected connections between the different floors. I ended up taking a bunch of pictures from different perspectives, because it fascinated me so much.
After that, I came back to my place to relax for a bit before heading out to see Patti. I decided to get dressed up in my sportcoat and tie; I figured that, unlike San Francisco, East Coast concert-goers would have a sense of decorum. Alas, I was proven wrong. Barely a tie in sight, with a few audience members showing up in T-shirt and jeans.
posted at: 10:33 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /journal/events/nyc | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
New York City, March 13
I took the red-eye flight out of San Francisco. Normally, it's not too big a deal for me because I can sleep on planes, but for some reason, I had a hard time sleeping this time around. Probably because I gloated to a coworker that I could sleep on planes. I did sleep for most of the flight, but mostly in 45 minute chunks or so. And, of course, the flight was only 4.5 hours, so I probably only got about 4 hours of sleep all told.
But I arrived, got my checked bag, and then navigated the subway system to the East Village. And, even better, the scheme that the guy I'm subletting from had cooked up to get me the keys worked out fine, which was the thing I was most worried about. So I'm crashing at this place near Tompkins Square Park in the East Village. It's a tiny place, but, hey, it's bigger and yet cheaper than a hotel room.
The first thing I did was crash for another three hours of sleep, dragging myself out of bed at 12:30 to at least make an attempt to get myself onto New York time. I grabbed lunch at Rai Rai Ken, a ramen house that I'd read about in the New York Times travel section, and then went looking for the East Village Safari. I was, alas, unable to locate them, and so I was on my own for the afternoon.
First order of business: actually get a NYC map and/or guidebook. I'd meant to before I left, but had run out of time. I knew there was this awesomely huge used bookstore somewhere near where I was, but I couldn't remember where. So I walked into a Barnes and Noble, picked up a guidebook, found the address of the Strand bookstore, and then went there to buy a guidebook. While poking around their New York guidebook section, I happened to see a New York Access guide, which is edited by Richard Saul Wurman. I really liked Wurman's book, Information Architects, so I was curious what the guidebook was like. It seemed to have a decent breakdown of the city, and good maps, and it was only $5 used, so I got it. Whee!
From there, I wandered up to Union Square and hung out there in the sun reading the guidebook, while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do this afternoon. I didn't have any brilliant thoughts, so I figured I'd just wander through Greenwich Village and Soho, because that's always fun. I don't think I'd ever been in Soho during the day before - it's fabulous. I loved browsing at moss, even though everything there was outrageously out of my price range. I was particularly amused by the "Internal Rolex" bracelet that I saw, designed by Leon Gilliam Ransmeier, which is a Rolex replica, wrapped in leather so that it is totally useless as a timepiece, and is merely a watch-shaped bracelet.
The other store I liked was Room and Board, which had a bunch of interesting furniture. They looked like an intermediate level between Ikea and Design Within Reach, which is where I aspire to be. I didn't see much that would really work at my place, except for the Gallery leaning shelves, which I liked a lot. If I were ready to drop $1000 on bookshelves, I'd lean towards those, because I think they'd look good at my place.
And then I was tired of walking, so I saw a cafe that advertised Wifi access and bought a mocha. Alas, my computer can't find a wireless network in range, so I don't know what's going on. But I figured I'd at least type up my notes so far. For kicks. Of course, this isn't the deep thinking that I'm supposed to be doing. I'm not sure when I'll get to that. I think my current plan is to hit a museum or other touristy thing in the morning/early afternoon, spend a couple hours each afternoon writing, and then head out to dinner with a friend, or to a club or show or something. Yeah. Something like that. We'll see how it goes.
(later) After leaving the cafe, I wandered a bit more in SoHo, and saw a big building with a bunch of mannequins inside in a hella cool layout. With no clue what it was, I went inside, because I was curious. Turned out that it was the Prada flagship store, designed by Rem Koolhaas. Very neat layout. I didn't even look at the clothes, though, because, well, that would be ridiculous.
And then I was exhausted, and returned to my room via the subway. At the airport, I got the one week unlimited ride for the subway for situations such as this, where it wasn't _that_ far to walk (maybe a mile and a half), and it would have been hard to justify paying $2 to avoid that walk. But with an unlimited card, I could take the subway without guilt, and be less cranky when I got back. And the subway stop was near a bagel place, so now I've got bagels for breakfast.
I'll venture out in a bit for dinner and maybe see if I can find a decent bar or club in the area. But I figured I'd get this posted just to see how this works - I haven't found a Wifi access point yet, so I'm going to try posting this via a USB connection to my host's computer (and yes, I tried just taking his internet cable and plugging in, but it didn't want to talk to me, probably something to do with not being registered with his ISP. Whee!
posted at: 18:46 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /journal/events/nyc | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal