Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New York, Part Four

We saw two shows at the Met: Miró: The Dutch Interiors and Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance.

We began with the Mirós, the smaller of the two shows.

Miró had a great admiration for the Dutch masters of the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly the innkeeper and painter Jan Steen, whose scenes were full of exuberance and chaos, the messiness and lustiness of everyday living.

Miró made a trip to the Netherlands in 1928 and visited the art museums in Amsterdam, where he bought a series of picture postcards of the paintings. He used these as a point of departure, mirroring the compositional arrangement of the paintings to his own renditions.

For instance, in Jan Steen’s Children Teaching A Cat To Dance, in which four youthful figures are grouped around a wooden table, one of them holding a cat erect by its paws while a young lady in a vivid blue dress leans in while playing a recorder as her companions laugh heartily and a Cocker spaniel barks and an old man in window looks sourly down at the event, Miró transmutes Steen's figures and objects (tureen, spoon, towel, stool, lute on the wall), with the caprice and whimsicality of his inimitable style. The woman in the blue dress becomes an amoebic blue blob with a narrow waist, the youth holding the cat becomes a big white blob with a circle for a head and a dot for a nose and a crescent moon for a mouth, the dog becomes a cow and the sour old man looking down out of the window becomes a spider. The cat is still somewhat recognizable as a cat, and there is a tiny lute hung on a background of light green. A large brown ribbon swoops up energetically from the back of the cow and bends over a black strip with an arrow at its tip. A face distorted in green, its features delineated in black, gazes up at the cat. We find the details of Steen’s 17th century household scene translated into the manic abstractions of the 20th.

The Jan Gossart exhibit was breathtaking. The beauty was intense. Uncanny.

It was a huge show. We spent several hours there and didn’t finish.

I took some notes on some of the works that I found especially striking. I wrote “beautiful moonlight scene angel descending behind a crescent moon luminous among diaphanous clouds” for Christ In The Garden Of Gethsemane. I had never seen a quality of light rendered so beautifully.

Gossart’s colors were warm and luminous, his details meticulous and fine. All the themes were Christian, taken chiefly from the New Testament, which was the dominant trend of the time.

The reason Gossart’s colors exuded such intensity and light had partly to do with a fresh development in fixing pigments to the canvas. Painters Hubert van Eyck and his younger brother Jan van Eyck discovered that a combination of linseed oil and nut oil mixed with some resinous substances formed a quickly drying varnish, and that by mixing it with pigments an unsurpassed brilliance was achieved.

We returned to our hotel to rest before my reading. We passed an Italian restaurant on the way called Al Dente and decided to have dinner there.

The pace at Al Dente, like all the restaurants in New York, like all of Manhattan, was intense. Waiters and busboys moved with astonishing speed and alacrity. Except for the owner, they appeared to be Latino. I found this to be the case at all the restaurants.

New York, I discovered, has no minorities. Races are so proportionately diverse and intermingled that no one race stands out. A good third of the population were the progeny of mixed marriages, which, considering the racial and ethnic diversity, are inevitable.

The only time I visited a place where nearly all the people were white, was in the high end restaurants, and the financial districts.

It was dark when we left for the reading. We arose from the subway at 14th Street and walked the rest of the way to St. Mark’s between 10th and 11th Streets on Second Avenue. We passed a lot of shops whose fronts were open to the street, their wares on display on the sidewalk. We passed a shop selling hats and Roberta spotted a hat she thought I would look good in. I needed a hat. I brought my wool running hat, but it was always a little damp after running in it, and took forever to dry. A man with a Russian accent was on us in no time, inviting me to come and try on the hat. I told him I didn’t care for that particular hat and he immediately produced another, a black fedora. Roberta was eager that I try it on, and so I went in, put it on, and looked in the mirror. I had to admit, it looked pretty damn cool, so I decided to buy it. It sold for $13.00 bucks. I asked the salesman if he could remove the tag. I expected him to produce a pair of scissors, but instead he flicked a cigarette lighter on, put the flame to the plastic cord, and severed it with the flame. I thought this a curious way to remove tags, though don’t think I would try that at home, where I would most likely end up burning our building down.

I felt funny in my new hat. Like Frank Sinatra. Or a Bowery punk. De Niro in Mean Streets. I didn’t know whether to burst out singing “Strangers In The Night” or shoot someone.

Joanna greeted us at the church. We went in. They were just setting things up. A young woman sat a table by a little tin box to take money.

Eventually, people began to arrive. Andrew Joron and Will Alexander appeared. They had read the night before at the Poet’s House, which John Yau had set up. I hadn’t seen John since he visited Seattle in 2006 and looked forward to seeing him, but he hadn’t been able to come. John’s wife Eve Ascheim, who had provided the magnificent cover for my novel The Nothing That Is, was out of town and so John was home babysitting.

My eyes popped out of my head when Seattle friends Nico Vassilakis and his partner Crystal Curry walked through the door. It turns out by chance that they happened to be in New York at the same time as us. I’ve known Nico for almost 20 years back home in Seattle, so it was an unexpected joy to see he and Crystal stroll through the door at St. Mark’s in the Bowery.

Truck Darling (formerly known as Jeni Olin) was the first to read. She is a diminutive, elfin, sparkly and energetic woman with a lot of panache and feeling. Her poetry is written in the New York style, à la Frank O’Hara, full of conversational zest, bizarre images and comparisons, lively allusions to the contemporary and particular, itchy scrotums and seasick clairvoyants, a poetry of plenitude and fists, sonic booms and palpable pleasures, a poetry that is physical, hectic, incisive, “sharp & warm & exclusive like after-swim bowel movements.”

There was a short intermission after Truck’s reading. Will got up and played some jazz on a grand piano that happened to be in the room.

I read for a half hour. I felt relaxed. At home. It was nice. A good feeling.

We returned to our hotel after the reading. I was thirsty. A rabid need for water. I thought about going to the Duane Reade across the street for some Gatorade but was just too tired. We entered the room and I spotted a bottle of Evian water. Hurray! But Roberta told me you had to pay for it. It was $6.95 if I took the cap off. I went to the bathroom and drank from the tap.

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