I covered a lot of elections during the dawn of this century. Then I stopped and unplugged from it all, and instead of journalism, I turned to ten years of raising my child, making art, writing poetry and prosaic thoughts and, finally, helping my father transition from this world.
I used only WordPress blogs and Youtube channels and Twitter – but not Facebook, nor by extension Instagram, because from the beginning I despised Mark Zuckerberg and his bullshit machine and saw it for what it was – a Fuckerberg. It’s why you won’t see me in the metaverse.
For reference, back in ’20, I described myself in that context.
This post is like a Table of Contents. It’s a meta-post of links to photojournalistic blogposts of my trip to New York six months ago, amidst the Omicron wave of Covid in Manhattan, for five days in late January. The links are in chronological order, and refer back progressively, like chapters about my trip.
I was able to film as we approached on the afternoon of January 19th, flying into New York City.
Later that night I took Tom to the Metropolitan Opera to see Quinn Kelsey perform Rigoletto.
The next morning it dropped thirty degrees and snowed. I spent two hours at the Museum of Modern Art catching the last days of exhibitions of work by Joseph E. Yoakum, Sophie Teauber-Arp and others.
The streets were weirdly quiet and absent of crowds – like I have never seen Manhattan before, even in the heart of winter. New York was dead.
That afternoon and evening I hung out at Summit One Vanderbilt, which was exceptional. Because I purchased the afternoon Premium ticket, the sunset ticket, with access to the elevator to the summit, I was able to hang out in the bar all evening, where I was joined in conversation and fun by rotating groups of tourists (wonderful conversations atop Manhattan), and the elevator to the highest viewpoint was amazing.
… was in the 30’s.
I hit the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see Surrealism Beyond Borders, which surprised me.
had a perfect breakfast sandwich at Chez Nick in Yorkville, a place to which I returned – delicious spot over there. It was the week that people were putting their Christmas trees out for pick up. Many people and hotels instead, turned them into decorative features in front of their buildings.
January 23rd was my chance by appointment only to catch the last days of the chronological exhibition on the ramps of the Guggenheim, Kandinsky at the Gugg. That was, quite frankly, an excellent exhibition.
Five days in Manhattan: Opera. Museums. Observation Bar. Streets. and tossed out Xmas trees – Lakshmi-auntie would approve.
That’s for New York.
This site is a treasure trove of memories. I created it when I was 40, updated it when I was 50, and now at 55, I am blogging here contemporaneously. Today begins a series of posts entitled Time Travel in ’22 with MTK (categorized 22TimeTrav) in which we link back to the archive to posts that are on or around today’s date.
ON THIS DAY I …
30 Years Ago … photographed families on two-wheelers in Taiwan.
25 Years Ago … mailed a ‘letter to the editor’ of The New Yorker magazine.
17 Years Ago … recorded cicadas in Kamakura, Japan.
12 Years Ago … wrote the very first post for Giants Baseball Corner, entitled, “Eleven to Eleven in the bottom of the Eleventh,” it’s a perfect memory.
10 Years Ago … took a photo of summer flora in Oakland.
8 Years Ago … wrote about my concerns for the Buddy Calk Trailhead of the Leon Creek Waterway in San Antonio, Texas.
There you go: thirty years of August tenthishness in:
Taiwan, NYC, Japan, San Francisco, Oakland and San Antonio.
with love from,
Space and Time Traveller
The installation Vasily Kandinsky Around the Circle, at the Guggenheim, curated by Megan Fontanella, opened in October and was closing in February, so I added it to my agenda for Sunday morning, my last in town.
The installation website has excellent details about the curatorial decision making. Kandinsky, a complicated figure, is here sensitively exposed. In this exhibition, Kandinsky’s work unfolds in reverse chronological order, starting with his late-life paintings and proceeding upward along the Guggenheim’s spiral ramp.
I had read Peter Schjeldahl’s piece, Choose Your Own Kandinsky Adventure at the Guggenheim, in the November 8, 2021, issue of The New Yorker. Schjeldahl begins:
“Choose a direction for your perusal of “Vasily Kandinsky: Around the Circle,” a retrospective that lines the upper three-fifths of the Guggenheim Museum’s ramp with some eighty paintings, drawings, and woodcuts by the Russian hierophant of abstraction, who died in France in 1944, at the age of seventy-seven. The show’s curator, Megan Fontanella, recommends starting at the bottom, with the overwrought works of the artist’s final phase, and proceeding upward, back to the simpler Expressionist landscapes and horsemen of his early career. This course is canny in terms of your enjoyment, which increases as you go.”
And, given the way the last year and a half had been, I decided to start at the bottom and go up, in reverse chrono, for the canny enjoyment, rather than the decay into madness.
I had, again, scheduled the earliest appointment of Sunday morning. In this instance, I was walking directly from Chez Nick, so arrived early and was first in line, masked and with my vaccination card and i.d.
I have a series of works that relate to reincarnation. I make copies of, or represent works made by artists I respect who died the year I was born. One of these is a rubber stamp print of Magritte’s Labors of Alexander, his last drawing – which became a three-dimensional sculpture. I had prints and was giving them away and leaving them all about town, especially around the Surrealism show.
Standing in line at the Gugg behind me were a young man from France and his parents. The young man lived in New York and his parents were visiting. We spoke French as I welcomed them and we waited. I gave them a Magritte print and explained my interest in reproducing works by people who died the year I was born. The father was skeptical. The mother only asked, “Who else do you do this with?” I only smiled enigmatically to express I had said too much already and they let us in.
Schjeldahl was right, it would have been totally different coming down from up. But this was a comprehensive exhibition of one of the most remarkable minds of the 20th century, either way.
Aime, Alberto, Aleksander, Alexander, Andre, art, Beyond, Boghossian, Borders, Cesaire, Dorothea, Giacometti, Greil, Harue, Helen, Joans, Joyce, Karthik, Koga, Lipstick, Lundeberg, m.t., Magritte, Mansour, Marcus, Metropolitan, mtk, Museum, Oelze, Penrose, Rene, Roger, situationists, Skundar, Surrealism, surrealists, Suzanne, Tanning, Ted, Traces
Everybody in my generation remembers chapter ten of the late great Greil Marcus’ book, Lipstick Traces, which came out my senior year of university (1989). Chapter ten dealt with the birth of the situationists, via the Easter Sunday performance at Notre Dame in 1950. Marcus wrote that the Surrealists, then ensconced figures in the art world in Europe and New York, claimed the act as that of their protégés, while the artists themselves rejected the notion. Surrealism was over.
The distinction between the situationists and the Surrealists and Dada was for us, an awesome thing to consider that way. The grandparents crowed about them and they rejected their successful grandparents. As a result of being educated from that perspective – a college kid looking at the 1950’s and learning from Marcus how this was a part of the birth of punk – my perception of Surrealism was, if not tainted, at least given greater contrast.
A bunch of us 20-year-olds in the early 90’s became fascinated by the situationists and DeBord. We were watching as they built the cities into grand stages for the Spectacle all throughout that decade. The Millennium was the Spectacle. Until it was 9/11. Everything DeBord foresaw was right in front of us. They even pulled down a few.
<<Flash Forward to 2022>>
If you want to call Booklyn, a fine arts collective dedicated to book arts, you dial my first number in New York. I was romantic about DeBord back then and so refused traditional entry into the group (or any group), but participated in its birth and establishment in Brooklyn in its early days. Booklyn is why many artists I know are in important collections around the country and the world. The collaboration was good and became incredibly important after September eleventh.
I called Booklyn when I dropped in to NYC and Marshall Weber called me back promptly. He chastised me for coming to town to support businesses that Booklyn would be protesting. He included the MOMA and the Met and the Opera. I didn’t bother to mention I was going to the Gugg the next day.
It is to say, the Metropolitan and MOMA have a labor problem. They have a diversity problem. They have a problem reframing the collections in the era of Black Lives Matter and MeToo and LGBTQ+ rights.
The Joseph E. Yoakum retrospective at MOMA I attended the day before and the Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibition I would be attending today were trying to address the issue: the Yoakum show was directly engaging a Black artist and the Metropolitan’s Surrealism Beyond Borders attempted to show how Surrealism was embraced by diverse groups of people around the world in various states of revolution. It sought to internationalize and radicalize visitors’ perception of Surrealism. It was closing at the end of the month. I went.
Sidenote: Again, I had to schedule a time for my visit as the museum attempted to encourage social distancing by timing the number of entrants. The temperature was in the 30’s and I was fully bundled up.
Only trouble is there was no coat check! Yet another victim of the pandemic was a coat check for all your winter gear when visiting the museums. It was hot inside and we visitors all had to lug all this winter gear around, ha!
Of particular interest to me was the area dedicated to Black Surrealists. I did not know how deeply Aime Cesaire had embraced Surrealism. Originals of his journal Tropiques (1941)
and Retorno al Pais Natal were a thrill to see.
The influence of Surrealism was apparent.
a quote from Suzanne Cesaire summarizes the cross-pollination
was also very deeply touched by this portrait of Charlie Parker by Black Canadian-American Surrealist Ted Joans, entitled Bird Lives! (1968)
But there was so much more from around the world. This shocking work, entitled Tagliche Drangsale (Daily Torments) by the oft-forgotten German Surrealist painter Richard Oelze (1900 – 1980), was painted a year after the National Socialists assumed power in Germany, (1934)
There was this brilliant Giacometti
Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian was an Ethiopian-Armenian painter and art teacher. He spent much of his life living and working in the United States. He was one of the first, and by far the most acclaimed, contemporary Black artists from the African continent to gain international attention. Here’s his Night Flight of Dread and Delight, Skundar Boghossian, (1964).
The Southern California artist, Helen Lundeberg, often credited for movement to Post-Surrealist work, was represented here in a Surrealist painting – Plant and Animal Analogies, (1934 -35).
And an early Surrealist work by the American painter, printmaker, sculptor and writer, Dorothea Tanning – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, (1943).
Roger Penrose was included with this sculpture, entitled The Last Voyage of Captain Cook, (1936-7)
It was my first time seeing the Exquisite Corpse in person.
And this great Magritte, I was born the year he died, you know.
And one of my all-time favorites
Salvador Dali’s Lobster telephone
There was much more to consider in the exhibition, website here.
But one piece stood out amongst the many I saw in my first visit to museums since the coronavirus pandemic struck. It was an obscure sculpture made of nails and sponge by French artist Joyce Mansour and it was entitled Objet Mechant, which means Nasty Object. It looks shockingly like the nastiest respiratory virus in human history. Yet it was made 50 years before Covid-19 struck.
Pretty good exhibition. so says I.
In the summer of 1997, I went as high up as I’ve ever been in a building in Manhattan, 1500 feet, to see “Little” Louie Vega, the DJ and producer, play his weekly Wednesday night set at Windows on the World in World Trade Center One, the North Tower. The city glittered below us as the bumping bass thumped the glass windows. Four years later they fell.
It wasn’t PTSD or fear of heights or anything like that, I just hadn’t been up high over Manhattan again. I didn’t ever visit the new observation deck of the Empire State, at around 1200′ or the so-called Freedom Tower – I just never prioritized it when was in town. So when I read about Summit One Vanderbilt, that opened in December of 2021, I was excited to check it out. It had only been open a month when I arrived.
One Vanderbilt is a 93-story skyscraper at the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue in Midtown. Designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, the building was proposed by developer SL Green Realty as part of a planned Midtown East rezoning in the early 2010s. The skyscraper’s roof is 1,301 feet (397 m) high and its spire is 1,401 feet (427 m) above ground, making it the city’s fourth-tallest building after One World Trade Center, Central Park Tower, and 111 West 57th Street.
I bought a ticket for the Thursday afternoon timeslot, which would allow views not only of sunset, but of the city at night. While it had snowed earlier in the day, the snow had stopped, the sun was out and the temperature had risen to the lower 30’s. But way up at the top of Summit One V, there was snow!
Here’s a video of my experience up until sunset:
And some stills from the evening :
abstract, Arp, art, chicago, concrete, drawings, e, Exhibition, geometric, Joseph, Karthik, landscapes, m.t., marionettes, Modern, mtk, Museum, new, NYC, paintings, Sophie, Swiss, Taeuber, Taeuber-Arp, Yoakum, york
When I awoke on Thursday the 20th of January of this year, the temperature in the city had dropped thirty degrees from the previous afternoon when I arrived. It was 14°F and snowing. It would be my first day walking around in Manhattan. I wasn’t ready for twenty blocks in that. It’d warm up later, but to make my museum time I’d have to take a cab.
Protocols of the pandemic required me to buy tickets not only to attend the opera, but the museums as well. A week earlier, I had made the first available appointment at MOMA, set for 10am, expressly to see the last week of the Joseph E. Yoakum retrospective exhibition.
The thinking was to let small groups in, separated by twenty or thirty minutes to reduce crowding and encourage social distancing. We were all masked, vaccinated and boosted, also by protocol. All visitors had to make appointments and book time slots.
My cabbie, Abdullah, turned down WBAI on the radio to talk about how things are in Manhattan, now. Of course he didn’t live in Manhattan, he couldn’t afford it. It was becoming not even worth it to come to town because nobody was around to flag cabs.
He told me he sees no one in the streets except cabbies and delivery drivers or riders. He said nobody goes outside – they ordered everything to come to them. It had been like that for more than a year. “You have to be a millionaire to live in the city. It’s a city only for the rich,” he said, “We used to call Fifth Avenue Millionaire’s Row, now we have Billionaire’s Row.”
Abdullah was referring to the new skyscrapers at the southern end of Central Park, like Steinway Tower, 11 West 57th, on the most expensive street in the world. When you consider the building’s height-to-width ratio, it’s the world’s skinniest skyscraper. The 1,428-foot tower is 24 times as tall as it is wide, with only one residence on each floor.
I saw the Billionaires Row skyscrapers briefly from the plane, but the skinny skyscrapers were, in fact, a little difficult to spot from street level.
Later in the day I’d be seeing them again from above. I had booked the sunset premiere ticket to see the new gallery of windows and mirrors floating above the city that had just opened the previous month – the observation floors of One Summit Vanderbilt.
From the street, though, I only got one decent shot of Steinway Tower on my walk that day.
When Abdullah and I arrived at MOMA, truly lovely tiny snowflakes fell swirling on a light breeze – light, pretty flakes that didn’t stick, just fell and in a few seconds disappeared. I joined the line awaiting in front, yielding my space under cover to an older couple since I had my peacoat and hat.
The flecks of white intermittently caught on the coat and disappeared as we made small talk, masked, in the light snow awaiting the Museum of Modern Art to open on a Thursday morning. They came in from Princeton, where they lived. She had once been a docent at the MOMA. We chatted about NFTs, art, and compared NYC and San Francisco now to times past in the lightly falling snow until the museum let us in.
Joseph E. Yoakum at MOMA
I had read about Joseph E. Yoakum and the retrospective exhibit at MOMA in The New Yorker and it sounded fascinating and inspiring. I mean who was this guy, who suddenly appeared on the art scene wholly composed as an exhibiting visual artist at the age of 76?
At the age of 55, I find myself running out of steam. Dad died and I handled it. My kid is grown and doesn’t want anything to do with me. Almost nobody reads my stuff or appreciates my art. Certainly far less than when I was at my peak. I keep making and writing because I have always done so, independent of an audience, but I grow weary of ignonimity. And here’s this guy … in his 70’s!
Joseph Elmer Yoakum (February 22, ca. 1890 – December 25, 1972) was a self-taught landscape artist of African-American and possibly Native American descent, who drew landscapes in a highly individual style. He was 76 when he started to record his memories in the form of imaginary landscapes, and he produced over 2,000 drawings during the last decade of his life.
They are mostly of small dimension, done with pen, pencil, ink and have scripted titles.
- Mt Brahmoi, Nassau Bahama Island
- Mongahalia River Falls near River Side West Virginia
- Crater Head mtns of Honolulu, Hawaiia (Nov 24 1969 stamp)
- Arabian Desert Near Sudi Arabia
- Flying Saucer in 1958
- Twin Crater Mts near Lima Peru
- The Cyclone that Struck Susanville in year of 1903 (Jan 22 1970 stamp)
- Jessie Willard 2nd Challenge to Champion Fight with Jack Johnson (for World’s Heavyweight Prize Fighting Championship in year 1917 and in —- 1921) (Dec 15 1969 stamp)
- Mt Baykal of Yablonvy Mtn Rangenear Ulan-ude near Lake Baykal, of lower Siberia Russia and Asia (hand dated 8/14 – 69)
- Rock of Gibraltar
- English Channel between Southampton England and LeHavre France (3/11-69)
Yoakum started drawing familiar places, such as Green Valley Ashville Kentucky, as a method to capture his memories. However, he shifted towards imaginary landscapes in places he had never visited, like Mt Cloubelle of West India or Mt Mowbullan in Dividing Range near Brisbane Australia.
Drawing outlines with a ballpoint pen, rarely making corrections, he colored his drawings within the lines using watercolors and pastels. He became known for his organic forms, always using two lines to designate land masses.
It was a great show. I am glad I caught it. Afterward, I spent a couple of hours catching up with stuff on rotation from the permanent collection.
Saw a guy contemplating a Pollock
I also caught the last days of an exhibition of the work of Sophie Tauber-Arp, which was remarkable.
Sophie Henriette Gertrud Taeuber-Arp (19 January 1889 – 13 January 1943) was a Swiss artist, painter, sculptor, textile designer, furniture and interior designer, architect, and dancer. Born in 1889, in Switzerland, the daughter of a pharmacist, the family moved to Germany when she was two years old.
Some years later she began attending art schools, and moved back to Switzerland during the First World War. At an exhibition in 1915, she met for the first time the German-French artist Hans/Jean Arp, whom she married shortly after. It was during these years that they became associated with the Dada movement, which emerged in 1916, and Taeuber-Arp’s most famous works – Dada Head (Tête Dada; 1920) – date from these years.
Cross on Red Ground (tablecloth) 1924, wool
The weaving was first created for use as a tablecloth, to be seen from above and circumnavigated. In 1926, in an essay in Das Werk, the journal of Swiss Werkbound, an association of designers, the architect Hannes Meyer singled it out as representative of the “new world of forms,” that artists were creating for modern life.
Equilibrium 1934, oil on canvas
Taeuber-Arp’s circles seem to hover over, perch on, or fall from the black lines. The green circle on the right appears to have been tossed in the air toward the edge of the canvas, directed by the skewed truncated line below it. Taeuber-Arp spoke of spoke of such play of circular forms in her work as boulisme (balls) or Petanque. The shapes seem to react to one another creating dynamic designs that give the impression of a freeze frame in an abstract film where the action has been temporarily arrested.
There was stained glass work that pursued the same geometric themes.
In the winter of 1918, Tauber-Arp was commissioned to produce marionettes and stage sets for an adaptation of the 18th-century play King Stag. These were particularly amazing.
Museum curator Laura Braverman wrote:
The marionettes broke away from folk traditions in puppet making, in that puppets at the time were supposed to be as lifelike as possible. You were not supposed to see the way in which they were made, but Taeuber-Arp really left all of that visible.
Curator Lynda Zycherman added, “What is, I think, unusual is the shapes themselves depicting human bodies in geometric ways. The face painting is extraordinary. Sophie Taeuber-Arp traced the shapes in pencil and then painted in between the lines. And if you look closely at most of the facial features, you can actually still make out the pencil lines.”
The Arps moved to France in 1926, where they stayed until the invasion of France during the Second World War, at the event of which they went back to Switzerland. In 1943, Sophie Taeuber-Arp died in an accident with a leaking gas stove.
Despite being overlooked since her death she is considered one of the most important artists of concrete art and geometric abstraction of the 20th century.
mtk and yoko say …
I cannot disclose why I went to New York in late January as I’m constrained willingly by the contract I signed the day I left from La Guardia just hours before the city was hit by a snowstorm carried on winds of the la niña winter polar jet stream, and snowbound.
I can say it’s an NFT play, signed between me and my former neighbor in Brooklyn, Tom.
“Either you go tomorrow,” Tom agreed,”or you ain’t leavin’ til next week.”
My flight of escapees had mostly bought their tickets within the last 48 hours, with a weather eye on the polar jet stream. We were routed to Denver. The storm shut the city down while we were in the air. I had been in New York City and out in Long Island for two weeks.
Double-dose Pfizer-vaccinated in May of ‘21 and boosted in November, I decided in December of last year that 2022 was going to be different. I was going to travel. I would help the economies of some places I haven’t been in a while. I’d spend some money in some places in our country that I respect and love for cultural and intellectual richness.
I made a new year’s resolution to spend more days of 2022 out of the house where I have been for the last five years than in it. Unlike most of you, for whom the ‘quarantine’ was at most a year and a half of house-boundedness, at that point, I had been bound for several years in a house, in another state from my beloved NorCal, as I cared for my father until he died, allowing him to pass the way he wished, in his home. I was eager to get back on the road, and eventually, home.
I set aside money from my small inheritance for this purpose. I granted myself a year of me-time, to travel, write, read and consider places to live, in the wake of my father’s death.
I chose New York first, and landed on the nineteenth day of the new year, amidst the Omicron wave. I was a New Yorker for five years at the turn of the millennium, so I’m prepared with specific goals when I visit Manhattan. It’s a habit learned from my Lakshmi-auntie, who lived in Parsippany for five decades and used the island, and indeed the whole city, with precision and elegance. She still drove into town herself in her 70’s.
I watched her use Goings-On-About-Town in The New Yorker, and Time Out and the Sunday NYT and the Voice, to be fresh, and even avant-garde, to her last days. She showed me the fastest ways to get in and out of the city, down-low parking spots, old-school joints. When I moved to the waterfront in Greenpoint, it was from her place, where I had been staying in the wake of the passing of her husband, my Surya-uncle, back in ‘97. It snowed in Brooklyn that winter.
Now, it was a clear, sunny Wednesday afternoon as I flew into La Guardia. It was in fact the warmest day of the year thus far in the city – 44° F, almost no wind, great visibility. The pilots swung wide to allow us a vantage of the cityscape – the bridges, high-rises and skyscrapers, just a few thousand feet below.
There’s the east river. Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg bridge.
Where I used to live in Greenpoint no longer has a cityscape view because there are massive condominiums there that can be seen in this shot. That bright, shining white skyscraper in lower Manhattan is One Manhattan Square. Extell Development Company sold 100 units there last year. They also sold 100 units at Brooklyn Point, which is the tallest residential building in Brooklyn.
One Manhattan Square and Brooklyn Point, each sold over 100 units in 2021 for a total of more than $400 million in sales. Extell claims it’s the only developer in New York to sell more than 100 units at two separate buildings in a calendar year. The units sell for between $850k – $3m.
When I was a New Yorker, the city taught me how to move through it. I didn’t know what I was going to find now, though, amidst the Omicron wave of Covid-19. New York was a city that had been ravaged in the first Spring of the nastiest respiratory virus in human history, because of its density and diversity – a global city, with international reach.
I came prepared, with my vaccine card showing two shots and the six-month booster, and my matching i.d., with N95 masks. Temperatures were expected to drop later that evening. The forecast was for highs in the teens and low 20’s for the rest of the week. I brought thermals, wool scarf, an overcoat and a fur hat – all of which were useful.
But I made a tight, localized agenda that had me entirely in Upper Manhattan. On my last day, I planned to walk to the Guggenheim to see the chronological exhibition of Kandinsky on the ramps at the Guggenheim, so I rented a hotel a few blocks away on the Upper East side – 92nd street and 1st Ave, near Yorkville. I landed, cruised through baggage, caught a cab to my hotel within 20 minutes, snagged a couple-hour nap, then showered, shaved and suited up for the opera.
Tom and the Opera
Tom and I hadn’t seen each other in almost 20 years. He is an energetic, native Long Islander, who has lived and worked in the city for years. He is as comfortable in the city as any of the boroughs or out on Long Island. He was my neighbor in Brooklyn 20 years ago, when he worked in commodities, on the floor at the exchange on Wall Street. He was there that fateful morning, besuited, running and hustling others away from the crumbling concrete and drifting ash and dust. We saw each other a few days later.
Tom and I caught up last year and I learned he had been through some rough times. But he told me something else that shocked me, personally. He said that nearly 20 years before, I had given him a carved stone or wood necklace and had told him it was powerful. He wasn’t sure if he did something wrong or if it was just the object itself, but he felt that it had cursed him.
That’s no joke. You don’t see someone for years and you are catching them amidst heavy difficulties all around and they tell you that you gave them a totem that may have cursed them – have to take that seriously.
When I looked at the schedule for the Met Opera, I knew immediately I had to take Tom. They were performing Rigoletto. It’s a tragedy about a hunch-backed jester, a pathetic figure, who, upon being cursed by a courtier, believes in and fears the curse, then unwittingly aids in the accursed events which befall him.
The last line of the opera is Rigoletto’s bewildered wail as he cradles the body of his dead child, “La Maladizione!” – which means, “The Curse!”
The first time I went to the Metropolitan Opera it was February of 1998. Two dozen years later, I decided to splurge. I purchased Parterre Center Box seats. I had previously only ever sat in the balconies. This was special.
To enter we had to show ID that matched a proof of vaccination card and if the last dose had been over six months, a stamp for a booster. Masks were mandated. Before the curtain rose, the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb, masked, came out on stage with a microphone and said, with a sigh of relief, “everyone in your program is performing tonight,” the confirmation that we would be seeing Quinn Kelsey and Rosa Feola . There was resounding applause.
The Metropolitan Opera has suffered, like every arts institution, during the pandemic.
This production received great reviews for Conductor Daniele Rustioni and promotional material all featured the open throated face of Quinn Kelsey in clown makeup. The baritone has made a name for himself performing Verdi, and in particular, portraying the beleaguered Rigoletto. The program read: “Quinn Kelsey, a commanding artist at the height of his powers, brings his searing portrayal of the title role to the Met for the first time,” but Kelsey had been unavailable for performances on the 9th and 14th. There was a buzz from the hope we would get to see him with the soprano Rosa Feola, a pairing about whom much had been written.
The set was unique. Though the original opera was based on a story by Victor Hugo set in the mid 16th century, the libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, was set in pre-Revolutionary 19th century France. The current staging at the Met uses the Weimar Republic as the context, contending the times were comparably beset by careless inequity.
Production is directed by (Tony-award winning director) Bartlett Sher – the New York Times has described him as “one of the most original and exciting directors, not only in the American theater but also in the international world of opera” – and Set Designer Michael Yeargan. The costumes, designed by Catherine Zuber, were thus 20th c. German.
The set had a massive revolving structure upstage that allowed for feature performances downstage, nearer the audience, for greater intimacy. There was a full apartment above a bar in one set, and Donald Holder’s lighting was agile, an active element of the production, spotlighting soloists seamlessly as they employed the entire stage.
Piotr Beczala, charged with the most famous role, Duke Mantua, was good. But a standout performance, in addition to Feola and Kelsey, belonged to Andrea Mastroni, the bass singing the part of the murderous blaggard Sparafucile.
What always amazes and delights me about the opera is that there are no microphones. The orchestra is not amplified, neither are the singers. We all sit quietly, no cell-phones or beeps or bells or whistles to bother us, and we focus for two and a half hours on these live performers making music in an extravagant production – entranced. People try not to even cough during the acts. I love that.
Kelsey was masterful.
Tom and I dined at The Smith, across the street from Lincoln Center and shared a blunt as we sauntered to the performance – it’s legal now to smoke a joint on the street in New York. It wasn’t when we were neighbors – not that it stopped us much then, we were just furtive.
Now we just stood by the fountain on the plaza, in front of the big Chagalls and the other patrons and the cops and shared a blunt. Tom is a blunt smoker, which is not my style, but when I am with him I partake.
He went to Fordham, which is just next door to Lincoln Center. He pointed out his old dormitory building, as we smoked. We shared a blunt before going in, and again at the intermission. To be clear, quality marijuana doesn’t attack my memory of the opera, it enhances it.
We left singing:
La donna è mobile/ Qual piuma al vento,
muta d’accento/ e di pensiero.
Sempre un amabile / leggiadro viso,
in pianto o in riso / è menzognero
**END Wednesday January 19th**
Ten days later, I checked the tide tables and took the accursed totem that I gave Tom twenty years before out to Lido Beach at just past high tide, recited the gayatri mantram, and chucked the thing out to be taken away by the sea.
In the Spring of that fateful year, 2020, my father died, at 90, of natural causes. He was a devoted American, whose contributions to the U.S. were immense, yet in some ways, immeasurable. He passed on a Monday and the global Covid-19 pandemic struck that actual week. Protocols meant I could have no public funeral service. Only five were allowed to attend: the brahmin, myself and three of dad’s former students. Six weeks later, George Floyd was choked to death, by police in Minneapolis Minnesota. Thousands marched, pandemic be damned.
George Perry Floyd Jr. was an African-American man who was openly and publicly murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest after a store clerk suspected Floyd may have used a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill.
He was lying inert and unarmed on the ground, and Derek Chauvin, one of four police officers who arrived on the scene, knelt on Floyd’s neck and back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds and choked him to death. It was filmed, and witnessed by many. The reaction to the video of George Floyd’s choking impacted the world.
Five months later Trump lost. His followers attempted a violent coup of the peaceful transfer of power to Biden. They attempted nothing short of a violent revolution against democracy in our country. Seven people died attempting to protect the Capitol and formal structures of our government from an amped-up, violent horde, whipped into a frenzy by the former President, who fomented them and the nation with utterly false accusations of election and voter fraud in the 2020 election. They continue to do this. There is a film called 2000 mules that is complete and total horseshit.
It would be like the last gasp of a terrible, ugly, racist monster swinging wildly as it goes down, except it still swings – now less publicly, without the perceived protection from a white supremacist in the White House. Ted Cruz and Ron DeSantis and Marjorie Taylor-Greene and others seek to fill the Trump-sized void, to keep the drumbeat of their racism and hate going. Their intention is nothing short of a fascist, White, Christian State.
There is significant concern that the monster has gone underground and even now plots a very real and significant coup, possibly even a civil war. Rest assured, the ugly beast – born from genocide and slavery, and cemented by white supremacy and abject racism – has dominated this nation for three hundred years. It will not go quietly.
We are and have been overdue to address it. Having calculated the impending minoritization of the so-called ‘White’ American for decades, the writing has been on the wall. The racist beast amongst them feels cornered, misunderstood and plans to retaliate against truth, justice and humanity.
These are White Americans who believe that:
- This is the greatest country in the world, and became so only because whites left Europe and founded a place where they could place themselves in control; where they could create their own white-supremacist thing, murdering and enslaving those they deemed heathens without recrimination. They consider Whites to be a race that ‘authored’ the USA, with greater rights than all other Americans.
- Black Americans are receiving far more protection and opportunity than they should because they make up only a small percentage of the population compared to whites. White Americans I know personally have said this to me over decades. It is a complete disconnect with the facts of Black American life.
- Minorities and new immigrants do not deserve protection of any kind. Those who come here should completely embrace their lower place in a hierarchy. If they expect to climb, they have to play by rules which praise White-American culture, and that which it ordains, above all else. It doesn’t matter if the rules contradict the immigrants’ own culture and values, as they do commonly – as happened to me my whole life.
- All Americans must play along, accept social truths over real truths, and be of value to the ruling class, which must remain White dominated.
I do not accept any of this. I consider it inhumane, unjust, racist and fundamentally against the founding principles of the nation’s forefathers – who, in any case, were only creating protections for themselves.
The nation has come to its inevitable crossroads once again. We reappear here at this intersection over and over through the centuries because we do not address the problem as a whole. Rather, we attempt constant fixes that pluralize over time – in the hope that we move toward a more just, fair and honest society.
We are far from it.
Truth is, we have never had one at all.
To begin, White Americans must be vetted in the context of what we consider right today. Let us root out those that harbor racist, violent thoughts against others. Let us root out the homegrown terrorists. And disarm them.
Since the coup attempt, many are hiding and plotting – by definition, treasonous acts. They don’t hide very well, since they explode with it all over social media. We should have begun there a long time ago. To those of you, particularly young people, who are into cancel culture: you don’t have to cancel them, you can identify and keep the light on them. Vet and Dox these people. Keep a record.
Whites have ‘vetted’ everyone else, brutally, for centuries. That should end now, with an appropriate vetting of them, in the context of our nation as it stands today.
Let’s discern who, exactly, attempts to author the USA on racist terms, and on religious terms – when the First Amendment clearly states we shall not. Let us establish and publicly name who works for the ends of Whites above others, exclusively, and how. Who seeks to establish a religion for our nation and oppress other spiritualities? Who seeks to hold down alternative culture?
Let us vet all of those in power for racial and social inequities. Expose through vetting what their actual opinions are and make them known. Start with the Whites.
Whites Must Be Vetted
— M.T. Karthik
October, 2020 – January 2022
I’m artist and author M.T. Karthik, known as Karthik or MTK.
This is an archive of some things I wrote and did until I was 50; more current MTK can be found during baseball season on my SF Giants blog, Giants Baseball Corner, and there’s stuff up to 2021 on my Youtube chan:
Here on this blog, you’ll find original writing, images and documentation of things I made and performances I gave until the age of 50. As I find and uncover things I dropped along the way and recollect them, I add to it over the years.
I wrote everything on this site – the poetry, essays, fiction and reviews – and shot or produced all the video and photographs (all the images in the headers above) and have occupied the node mtkarthik dot org and removed advertising so you can peruse free of distractions.
In the four decades covered here, I circled the world several times, living for years mostly in California – the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles – but also in New York City, New Orleans, Austin, San Antonio, Japan, India and Taiwan.
I have not landed. I don’t own property. I am mostly of nowhere and homeless; mostly unknown in both my birth nation and the nation to which I’m naturalized as a citizen. I’m most like ash on the wind or a stone skipping across a lake that studies the taxonomy of species around it.
Oakland, 2012 and San Antonio, 2017
I believed I had read all the fiction Paul Bowles ever published in these 18 years since his death. The discovery last week of the short story collection Midnight Mass, with the familiar Black Sparrow paperback binding – earthy tan with green and purple block print – was thus a very emotional experience.
Immediately I was flooded by memories and thoughts of the man I considered my favorite author from the time I discovered him in ’87, the summer I got my first tattoo, until his death at the end of the last century.
Instantly, too, in that powerful way that great literature connects us with the world we are in, I remembered myself experiencing his works: where I was, the effect it had upon me. The empowerment and awe I felt after finishing one of his short stories or novels: blown away.
Paul Bowles was a huge influence on me as a writer and thinker. He was one of the most powerful allies in my struggle with immigration to the United States and in philosophical discourse in Europe. That he wrote from the subconscious as described by his wife, Jane, was the most romantic and amazing concept to me when I was young and I longed to be able to do that – not to understand it, but to do it.
The utter irrationality of the Western project, the neoliberal insanity we have all endured so long, was exposed by Bowles and then swiftly and violently shattered by the reality of life among the desert people of North Africa. In other works, a slow and seemingly disconnected series of events between locals in a village would be described with such lucidity and simplicity that the differences in thinking between east and west were made suddenly crystalline in the end – hits you like a koan.
The collision of culture was total and instead of Coca-Cola and the Golden Arches mowing down the village, the puny, minuscule westerners melted away in the heat of the Saharan sun, driven mad.
Midnight Mass is the last collection of Bowles’ short stories published by Black Sparrow and features at its center the elegant, drifting, rootless novella Here To Learn, a gorgeous story about a girl from North Africa who just keeps moving buoyed by her beauty, her wit and her ability to learn quickly how to negotiate the West.
The collection starts with the titular story, Midnight Mass, one of Bowles’ incredible parties; the Nazarenes careening around in their expatriated stupor of drinking, carousing and complaining, the locals bursting with romance only to become suddenly something else – the change of face.
There are stories about the locals and their fantastic, sometimes circuitous logic and its culmination in a kind of basic justice. There are tales about the utter undoing of our perception of a shared understanding of this world.
At the Krungthep Plaza is an amazing story set as the U.S. President is due to pass through a certain North African village. The machinations behind the scenes and the conflicts between locals, expats and the security teams are expertly related, culminating in a wild effusion of emotions that I can only described as angst against the way things are now.
It’s all just so great. I miss Paul Bowles.
Paul Bowles, 18 years after he died, was the best writer I read this year.
audio, birth, book, computers, contact, copyright, dawn, electronic, essay, first, games, gaming, internet, interviews, Karthik, longform, m.t., media, mtk, nascent, plug, Project, technology, television, unplug, web
Between 2005 and 2011, I collected interviews with people about their first experiences with a computer (The First Contact Project) and
wrote a book about our intersection with technology and how I grew up with it and how it became a part of policy and society (Plug/Unplug)
Here I mix them together for a final expression.
On December 6th, 2017 I received this:
I’d never read a single word of Jennifer Egan’s work until Manhattan Beach, released by Scribner this month, despite that Egan has published four previous novels and won the Pulitzer and a National Book Critics Award for A Visit From the Goon Squad (2010), a novel that has been acclaimed in effusive terms for its inventiveness and originality in all quarters of the literary community.
Everything I read about Goon Squad makes it seem like my type of book. Weird, futuristic, made-up languages; character-POV-shifting chapters … I don’t know how I missed it. Trust me it’s on deck.
Though I’m late to the party, I think it might give me a different perspective on Manhattan Beach. I read it as a straightforward, third-person novel set in the mid-20th century.
Nearly all the early reviews of this novel mention how different it is from Jennifer Egan’s previous work and in specific, often quite vociferously, from Goon Squad. For an author who has been exploratory and inventive with form, Manhattan Beach is a contrast, a historical period piece.
But it turns out Egan worked on this novel considerably longer than any others. She told Alexandra Schwartz in a long form interview for the New Yorker last week she had been working on it for the last 15 years, struggling to put together a story “anybody is going to want to read.”
I recommend it.
Manhattan Beach is an extremely well-researched and fast-paced story set predominantly in Brooklyn near the end of World War II that transports the reader to New York City in the mid-1940’s and fills it with presence and character. Egan has crafted an intriguing family story with which to reveal the city and the times, with particular focus on life in and around the Brooklyn Naval Yards.
The protagonists Anna Kerrigan and her father Eddie, and their family, friends, colleagues and enemies carve out their lives cast in the meager circumstances of a wartime economy that we know from history is coming to a close. Manhattan Beach takes us on a richly detailed tour of the corruption and culture of Brooklyn, New York, the Mafia and the Navy in a very particular period in history: the handful of years before the end of the war, between Pearl Harbor and the fateful flight of the Enola Gay.
It’s an American story about a Brooklyn family and how their life is changed in a tumult. The war hangs at a distance and we see the city – and in particular the Navy Yard and its surroundings as most young, able-bodied Americans are being sent abroad to fight.
Anna is a tremendously likable character and her journey at the Navy Yard to become a diver is a fascinating and well-detailed arc that weaves through the mystery and intrigue of her father’s disappearance and the nefarious underworld of the gangster Dexter Styles.
Egan’s style is crisp, well-researched and yet poetic when necessary. Balanced in approach, one doesn’t get a nostalgic feeling for this period, but rather a view of it as if through a veil. The story unfolds, characters slowly discover things and we get to see something we haven’t been able to see.
The sea – riding upon it, staying alive in it, walking in divers gear and trying to see through it – plays a significant role in this work and yet it, like the war in the distance functions more as a powerful medium for the development of the characters.
By contrast, the plumbing of Egan’s characters – their thoughts and emotions buffeted about by war, crime and sea change – is lucid and clear. Egan is excellent at interior monologue and reflection by her characters. She gets at rooted feelings with wide-open eyes. This often results in gorgeous passages.
The story includes a brilliantly imagined voyage on a merchant marine vessel named the Elizabeth Seaman. The nod to Nellie Bly goes unmentioned, a subtlety at which Egan is graceful – letting history fall into place where it belongs.
Egan captures the longing and isolation of Eddie Kerrigan, in his stateroom 47 days at sea, suddenly gripped by the notion that he has forgotten the face of his beloved –
” – could hardly picture her anymore. Faraway things became theoretical, then imaginary, then hard to imagine. They ceased to exist.”
Then, almost immediately, a torrent of thoughts pour through him about the first time they met, about her children and their times together. Finally he concludes,
“It was all still there, everything he’d left behind. Its vanishing had been only a trick.”
The story here, of a child and father separated by fateful decisions who alternate between avoiding and seeking one another out, is woven expertly and filled with surprises that emerge, unfolding until events feel inevitable. That’s good storytelling. The characters have a weight and realness to them because they endure and grow. There are deaths and children and gangsters and action.
But the story takes place in a different America, a different New York and it’s glaring on occasion. Characters deliberate over ethically conservative matters with earnestness but it never escalates. How women are perceived, how abortions and unwanted children are handled; these matters are described but never raise up into full blown issues. Racial hierarchies are described with the vernacular of the day: “micks,” “wops” and “Negroes” but racism never emerges enough to be addressed as an issue. It’s just how things were is the feeling one gets.
Manhattan Beach faithfully portrays some Brooklynites, in particular Irish-American, Italian-American and Naval families during World War II and an era of transition from a more sexist, racist and somewhat naive past just up to the doorstep of a future we live in today.
I review without spoilers, so I’ll conclude by saying Manhattan Beach is a great book. New Yorkers will love it and Egan will be helped during awards season by that. But more, I enjoyed Jennifer Egan’s language – lovely turns of phrase – and her character’s introspections. She has managed to create a compelling tale from immense research.