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New York City

Ms Niamh advances towards Bethlehem

Friday, 10 November, 2017 0 Comments

“And except on a certain kind of winter evening — already dark and bitter with a wind off the river, when I would be walking very fast toward a bus and would look in the bright windows of brownstones and see cooks working in clean kitchens and imagine women lighting candles…” That evocative image of New York City is from Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a famous collection of essays by Joan Didion published in 1968 that takes its title from the poem The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats.

Today, Niamh O’Brien advances towards our modern Bethlehem and we wish her luck in her ventures and with her adventures in New York. A pair of mother’s gloves and a prayer to Saint Anthony will ensure her well-being in the Big Apple, no doubt.

Niamh

“And except on a certain kind of winter evening — six-thirty in the Seventies, say, already dark and bitter with a wind off the river, when I would be walking very fast toward a bus and would look in the bright windows of brownstones and see cooks working in clean kitchens and and imagine women lighting candles on the floor above and beautiful children being bathed on the floor above that — except on nights like those, I never felt poor; I had the feeling that if I needed money I could always get it.” — Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem


The unforgettable Falling Man of 9/11

Sunday, 11 September, 2016 0 Comments

The photograph was taken by Richard Drew on 11 September 2001, and it shows a man plummeting from the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Today, on the 15th anniversary of the terror attacks, we should take time to read “The Falling Man” by Tom Junod, which appeared in Esquire on 1 September 2003, for this is magazine writing at its best: “He is, fifteen seconds past 9:41 A.M. EST, the moment the picture is taken, in the clutches of pure physics, accelerating at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. He will soon be traveling at upwards of 150 miles per hour, and he is upside down.”

The Falling Man

Junod succeeds far better than anyone else who has written journalistically about that day in conveying both the instant of death and the length and meaning of a life. Quote:

“THEY BEGAN JUMPING NOT LONG after the first plane hit the North Tower, not long after the fire started. They kept jumping until the tower fell. They jumped through windows already broken and then, later, through windows they broke themselves. They jumped to escape the smoke and the fire; they jumped when the ceilings fell and the floors collapsed; they jumped just to breathe once more before they died. They jumped continually, from all four sides of the building, and from all floors above and around the building’s fatal wound. They jumped from the offices of Marsh & McLennan, the insurance company; from the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading company; from Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 106th and 107th floors — the top.

For more than an hour and a half, they streamed from the building, one after another, consecutively rather than en masse, as if each individual required the sight of another individual jumping before mustering the courage to jump himself or herself. One photograph, taken at a distance, shows people jumping in perfect sequence, like parachutists, forming an arc composed of three plummeting people, evenly spaced. Indeed, there were reports that some tried parachuting, before the force generated by their fall ripped the drapes, the tablecloths, the desperately gathered fabric, from their hands. They were all, obviously, very much alive on their way down, and their way down lasted an approximate count of ten seconds.”

Never forget.


9/11 at 15

Sunday, 11 September, 2016 0 Comments

For the people who went to work in the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on the morning of 11 September 2001 and were mercilessly slaughtered; for the firefighters and the police who gallantly responded to the calls for help and were obliterated; for the passengers on the planes and the flight crews whose lives were extinguished in a terrifying moment, this poignant memorial is dedicated to you and yours.

“Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose. A pity that we let them pick the time and place of the challenge, but we can and we will make up for that.” — Christopher Hitchens


Silence encourages the tormentor and the bully

Monday, 4 July, 2016 0 Comments

Elie Wiesel, who died on Saturday in New York City, survived the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps and devoted the greater part of his life to writing and speaking about those horrors. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 and this part of his acceptance speech is as necessary as when he delivered it in Oslo 30 years ago:

“And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

It is said that silence is golden, and maybe there are times when it is valuable, but silence loses all its lustre when it means accepting bullying, especially the intimidation of the weak, the elderly and the defenceless. We should name and shame the oppressor and the tormentor, loudly and publicly in memory of Elie Wiesel.

Elie Wiesel


The third Station: Thanksgivings

Thursday, 26 November, 2015 0 Comments

On Saturday, 14 October 1989, my mother wrote the following diary entry: “My last day in Brooklyn after a beautiful holiday, the holiday of a lifetime. Today is really warm. Temp 75 degrees, everyone in summer clothes, etc. Got up at 7.am. Writing this now while the kettle is boiling. Had tea now. Must bake my last cake now. I have 6 cakes put in boxes for Ea & Ann so I am sure they’ll have nearly enough until Xmas. Ann had a great old metal frying pan for baking them in. The real thing.”

The “holiday of a lifetime” was not just a trip across the Atlantic, although that was of itself a milestone experience. What made it momentous was the knowledge that she was retracing the steps that members of her family, near and extended, had been taking since the middle of the 19th century. On ships first and in planes later, they had voyaged to the United States and spread out from New York to Chicago, Salt Lake City and San Francisco. Her own brother, Tom, emigrated to America and meeting his children in Waterbury, Connecticut, was an especially poignant moment for her.

Looking at photographs taken during the holiday, the thing that stands out is the pure happiness. The optimism of the New World suited my mother. The pace of the place agreed with her. The constant motion matched her high-energy approach to life: Sights had to be seen, people needed meeting, trips had to be taken and in the midst of all this, bread had to be baked and all these things had to be noted in the diary. This particular observation never fails to intrigue: “Seen World Trade Centre with its Twin Towers. Rise 110 Stories and 1,350 feet each and on one of them is a high pole to warn the planes not to fly too low.”

Mother with Twin Towers

The “holiday of a lifetime” was also a break from the sometimes-monotony of the rural environment that had been my mother’s reality since birth. She loved where she had been born into, but she appreciated every opportunity to explore the wider world and nothing was wider in the world for her than the USA. Watching her enjoy each encounter with America, one felt that had the cards been dealt differently she would have made a wonderful life for herself in a place where energy and creativity are so much appreciated. That was not to be, but we give thanks today for all that was, for the memories of that happy holiday and the cakes baked in Brookyn.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Faith.


“Well, I shuffled through the city on the 4th of July”

Saturday, 4 July, 2015 0 Comments

New York, New York was included on an acclaimed Ryan Adams album that was scheduled for release on 11 September 2001. The material on Gold was written long before the 9/11 terror attacks and the themes, hard loving and heavy drinking, were the stuff of young lives in a city full of adventure. Songs of innocence, in a sense.

New York, New York acquired poignant fame because Adams shot the accompanying video on 7 September on the banks of the East River with the Twin Towers featuring prominently in the background. Sic transit gloria mundi.


Ola Gjeilo improvises

Saturday, 20 June, 2015 0 Comments

Sinfini: “What do you say when asked to describe your music?”

Ola Gjeilo: “I’d say that my piano music tends to be a lyrical mix of improvisation and classical, more or less.”

The pianist-composer Ola Gjeilo was born in Norway in 1978 and moved to New York City in 2001 to study at the Juilliard School. Last year, the Manhattan Chorale performed his Sunrise Mass in Carnegie Hall, and he also premiered Dreamweaver, written for choir, piano and string orchestra and inspired by a popular Norwegian medieval ballad, Draumkvedet. Gjeilo was recently commissioned to write a piece for the a cappella octet group Voces8 and it will be performed next year.


A most excellent film

Thursday, 26 March, 2015 0 Comments

According to statistics, 1981 was the most dangerous year in the history of New York City. This, then, is the time and the place in which director J.C. Chandor stages A Most Violent Year. Crime is rampant, corruption is rife, danger lurks on the mean streets and the winter cold is pervasive. Despite these obstacles, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is determined to corner a share of the oil heating industry. His wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), comes from Mafia stock and is the power behind the throne, but she has her Mrs Macbeth moments of doubt about her man. He lacks the native killer instinct needed to survive in America’s concrete jungle, she feels. Yes, he’s handsome, clever and ambitious, but he refuses to carry a gun. She is wrong, of course, and one of the great things about this film is that it shows how little we understand each other, no matter the intensity of our relationships.

Abel Morales: “You should know that I have always taken the path that is most right. The result is never in question for me. Just what path do you take to get there? There is always one that is most right. And that is what this is.”


The Disruptive Polaroid

Friday, 5 December, 2014 0 Comments

To celebrate its 85th birthday, Businessweek has listed the 85 most disruptive ideas that have emerged during its lifetime. They range from GDP to the jet engine, and in between there’s the Pill, Singapore, <h1>HTML</h1>, Starbucks and the AK-47. When you mouse-over No. 84, it makes the whirring sound of a Polaroid picture being taken, and that’s because Edward Land’s innovation is adjudged to be one of the most disruptive ideas in recent times. In his tribute to the camera, Christopher Makos writes:

Polaroids were the first social network. You’d take a picture, and someone would say, “I want one, too,” so you’d give it away and take another. People shared Polaroids the way they now share information on social media. Of course, it was more personal, because you were sharing with just one person, not the entire world.

I met Andy Warhol in the ’70s at the Whitney Museum and started doing projects with him because he loved my photographs. He’d never had a pal who was a photographer, so I was his guru, showing him what cameras to buy, what pictures to take. Andy loved Polaroid. Everything was “gee whiz”; it was brand-new. So immediate.

Taking a selfie with a Polaroid is also very intimate. They weren’t called selfies back then, obviously. People weren’t as self-aware. We didn’t have 10 years of reality TV shows in the social consciousness. But Polaroid marked the beginning of self-awareness.

polaroids


Bowie here, there and everywhere

Saturday, 15 November, 2014 0 Comments

On Monday, David Bowie will offer the world an early Christmas present in the form of Nothing Has Changed, which covers his music from 1964 to 2014, with some previously unreleased material among the 59 tracks in the three-disc box set. To coincide with this cornucopia, Bowie has issued a très noir video of the first track, Sue, featuring the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Filmed in New York and London, the clip was directed by Tom Hingston. And for those who can’t get enough of the stardust, Hamish Hamilton has made a film about the closing night of the Bowie exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum last year. As we look back at what’s taking shape as Bowie’s legacy, let us not forget that he once said, “Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming.”


Currently reading

Tuesday, 30 September, 2014 0 Comments

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris. It’s the follow-up to The Unnamed, which was the second novel by Ferris. On first glance, both books are similar in that they do their best to exhaust the reader. Equally, both are about suffering and despair and one can safely bet that Ferris will not win the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, for which To Rise Again at a Decent Hour has been shortlisted. If you like dentistry, though, there are some amusing bits:

His canine, in an advanced state of decay, was stained the color of weak tea but was still rooted to active nerves. No dentist in his right mind would pull a tooth without at least applying a local anesthetic. I told him that, and he finally agreed to the local. He resumed his meditative position, I juiced him with the needle, and then I went at his canine with a vigorous swaying grip. Two seconds into it he began to moan. I thought the moaning part and parcel of his effecting emptiness to the extreme, but it grew louder, filling the room, spilling out into the waiting area. I looked at Abby, my dental assistant, sitting across the patient from me, pink paper mask obscuring her features. She said nothing. I took the forceps out of my patient’s mouth and asked if everything was okay.
“Yes. Why?”
“You’re making noise.”
“Was I? I didn’t realize. I’m not actually here physically,” he said.
“You sound here physically.”
“I’ll try to be quieter,” he said. “Please continue.”
The moaning started up again almost immediately, rising to a modest howl. It was inchoate and bloody, like that of a newborn’s with stunted organs. I stopped. His red eyes were filmed with tears.
“You’re doing it again,” I said.
“Doing what?”
“Moaning,” I said. “Howling. Are you sure the local’s working?”
“I’m thinking three or four weeks ahead of this pain,” he said. “I’m four to six weeks removed.”
“It shouldn’t be painful at all,” I said, “with the local.”
“And it’s not, not at all,” he said. “I’ll be completely silent.”
I resumed. He stopped me almost that very second.
“Can I have the full gas, please?”
I put him under and removed the tooth and replaced it with a temporary crown.

To Rise Again