New York City

City life and letters

Wednesday, 9 October, 2013 0 Comments

When it came to the future of his native city, James Joyce claimed that if Dublin was destroyed you could rebuild it from the detail in Ulysses. The New York author Paul Auster makes no such lofty claims regarding his hometown, but many of his books are maps of the Big Apple, particularly his adopted Brooklyn. Auster is more than urban fiction, though. His books also contain humanity in all its fragility. Oracle Nights Anyone who has fought back from major illness will feel at home in the introduction to Oracle Night:

“I had been sick for a long time. When the day came for me to leave the hospital, I barely knew how to walk anymore, could barely remember who I was supposed to be. Make an effort, the doctor said, and in three for four months you’ll be back in the swing of things. I didn’t believe him, but I followed his advice anyway. They had given me up for dead, and now that I had confounded their predictions and mysteriously failed to die, what choice did I have but l live as though a future life were waiting for me?

I began with small outings, no more than a block or two from my apartment and then home again. I was only thirty-four but for all intents and purposes, the illness had turned me into an old man — one of those palsied, shuffling geezers who can’t put one foot in front of the other without first looking down to see which foot is which.”

As our narrator gets stronger, his wanderings take him as far as a stationary shop in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn and he buys a blue notebook, which then puts him under its spell. The rest is a story about haunted lives.

Those who do get a second bite of the cherry of life and survive serious sickness will relate to this passage towards the close of Auster’s novel: “I had my face in my hands and was sobbing my guts out. I don’t know how long I carried on like that, but even as the tears poured out of me, I was happy, happier to be alive than I had ever been before. It was a happiness beyond consolation, beyond misery, beyond all the ugliness and beauty of the world.”

The ugliness and beauty of the world as captured by writers will feature in two cities this week: Frankfurt, where the annual Book Fair begins today, and Stockholm, where tomorrow the Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced. Prior to that, in our continuing urban week, we’ll look at the city as the battleground for future conflicts.

9/11 at 12

Wednesday, 11 September, 2013 0 Comments

Today is the twelfth anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terror attacks on Manhattan and Washington. What has entered folk memory as “9/11” was our young century’s introduction to totalitarianism, in its most brutal form. On that day, a murderous, criminal gang dedicated to maximizing civilian deaths seized airplanes filled with innocent passengers and then used their victims as part of a wicked plan to gain notoriety. In the wake of the tragedy, the civilized world woke up to the reality that the West was now at war with a medieval death cult driven by a racist, religious hatred of Jews, Hindus, Christians, Shi’a Muslims and all other “unbelievers”, especially those who placed their faith in democracy, tolerance and individual liberty. Out of the blue on 11 September 2001, those who trusted in modernity were confronted with the evil resolve of people dedicated to the restoration of a vanquished dictatorial empire. Two worlds collided on 9/11 and the repercussions are still being felt. As always, our thoughts are with the families whose loved ones were torn from them on that day.

The Twin Towers

Stop Sepsis. Save Lives.

Monday, 9 September, 2013 0 Comments

The first-ever Berlin Sepsis Summit (PDF) opens today in Langenbeck-Virchow-Haus. Your blogger has a personal interest in the disease as he contracted sepsis, with near fatal consequences, while in hospital during summer and nothing concentrates the mind more wonderfully than the prospect of closure and its causes, to paraphrase Dr Johnson. For those unfamiliar with the syndrome, sepsis occurs when the body is unable to fight bacterial infection. Perversely, many of the advances in modern healthcare weaken our immune system, opening the door for sepsis. These include cancer treatments, medicines for gastro-intestinal illnesses and drugs that affect the immune system, like cortisone.

Every three seconds someone around the world dies of sepsis and, terrifyingly, it is now the second-leading cause of death in non-coronary intensive care unit patients. Even in first-world countries such as Germany, with a much-praised healthcare system, some 160,000 people die from the disease annually. Imagine, then, the havoc it wreaks in less developed societies?

The keynote address in Berlin today will be given by Ciaran Staunton, whose young son, Rory, died of sepsis in April last year in NYU Langone Medical Center. A preventable death in one of the world’s best medical facilities produced a storm of outrage and led in January to the enactment in New York State of “Rory’s Regulations“, a series of protocols to diagnose and treat sepsis before it turns fatal.

World Sepsis Day will be marked globally on Friday and the declared goal is reducing the incidence of the disease by 20 percent by 2020. Stop Sepsis. Save Lives.

World Sepsis Day

The promise of immunotherapy

Friday, 16 August, 2013 0 Comments

“YERVOY (ipilimumab) can cause serious side effects in many parts of your body which can lead to death.” That’s a rather drastic warning for a drug company to offer prospective users, but that’s exactly what Bristol-Myers Squibb is doing in the case of YERVOY (ipilimumab), which “shrank tumors significantly in about 41 percent of patients with advanced melanoma in a small study. In few of the 52 patients in the study, tumors disappeared completely, at least as could be determined by imaging.” One of that “few” is the journalist is Mary Elizabeth Williams, who writes for Salon. Since late 2011, she’s been taking part in an immunotherapy clinical trial at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan and, as she puts it, she’s “clean”. What is immunotherapy? Williams explains:

“Unlike traditional cancer treatments, immunotherapy works with the body’s own defense system, releasing the braking system on a patient’s T-cells to attack cancer. And because it works systemically, the hope is that the immune system will be able to fight not just the cancer cells that testing can detect, but anywhere it might be lurking in the body — and to continue to do so long-term.”

That’s a snippet from “My ‘truly remarkable’ cancer breakthrough,” which appeared in Salon on 17 May this year. “Because immunotherapy worked so well for enough of us, my greatest hope is that now it will work well for a whole hell of a lot more of us,” says Williams. And so say all of us. By the way, on Wednesday OncLive reported that, “Any lingering skepticism about immunotherapy as an anticancer strategy appears to have been banished by research presented at the 2013 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, with fresh data from several key trials translating into excitement in clinical circles and in the investment arena.” Faster, please.

 melanoma cells

Life without air-con

Thursday, 25 July, 2013 0 Comments

On Sunday, in Munich, the temperature is predicted to reach 38C, and it might even touch 40C. Because Germans regard air-conditioning as “American” and, therefore, depraved, unnecessary suffering will be widespread; especially hard hit will be helpless patients in many of the city’s clinics and hospitals.

There was a time, however, on the other side of the Atlantic when air-conditioning was unknown and Arthur Miller captured the hardship of summer in Manhattan beautifully in “Before air-conditioning,” which was first published in the New Yorker in June 1998. Snippet:

“People on West 110th Street, where I lived, were a little too bourgeois to sit out on their fire escapes, but around the corner on 111th and farther uptown mattresses were put out as night fell, and whole families lay on those iron balconies in their underwear.

Even through the nights, the pall of heat never broke. With a couple of other kids, I would go across 110th to the Park and walk among the hundreds of people, singles and families, who slept on the grass, next to their big alarm clocks, which set up a mild cacophony of the seconds passing, one clock’s ticks syncopating with another’s.”

On the other hand, the Bavarians might be justified in their rejection of air conditioning because as Garrison Keillor once noted: “It was luxuries like air conditioning that brought down the Roman Empire. With air conditioning their windows were shut, they couldn’t hear the barbarians coming.”

Munich weather

Summer in the city

Monday, 8 July, 2013 0 Comments

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Day and Night in New York City

Thursday, 6 June, 2013 0 Comments

Photographer Stephen Wilkes creates extraordinary blended images by taking photos of a single scene over and over for 15 hours. Here, where Fifth Avenue and Broadway cross paths in Manhattan at the prow of the Flatiron Building, he has made night and day part of a seamless urban scene.

Day and night in New York

The only Gatsby review you need to read

Friday, 17 May, 2013 0 Comments

In the 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby starring Robert Redford, Daisy Buchanan, played by Mia Farrow, tells Gatsby: “Rich girls don’t marry poor boys.” The line appears nowhere in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel and with good reason because by the time Daisy makes this remark in the Redford film, Jay Gatsby is very rich, which makes it an extremely silly thing for her to say. In his adaptation of the book, Baz Luhrmann avoids all such infelicities. His interpretation hews close to the original written word, and when he departs from the text it’s always to enhance the story with tweaks that support the astonishing visuals, made all the more fantastic in 3-D. These images are mainly of the vulgar culture of new money, which is what causes Daisy ultimately to leave Gatsby at the end of the story and stick with her brutal, boorish but old money husband.

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

The moral of the story is that the elite win, always. Despite all the talk of meritocracy, it is a class-based society that Fitzgerald is writing about, and those who work hard, like poor Mr Wilson, are treated like dirt, and those who try to clamber to the top, like poor Jimmy Gatz, are treated with contempt.

Jordan Baker With Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, two uniquely talented actors lead Baz Luhrmann’s latest charge into the classics and they’re ably supported by a cast in which Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Jordan Baker, is outstanding. Carey Mulligan is a rather pallid Daisy Buchanan, while Joel Edgerton as her husband Tom is the only weak link in the chain. Otherwise, this is as good as it gets. Thanks to Luhrmann, Gatsby continues to be “great” because the film, like the book, contrasts idealism with corruption and bravely accepts the reality of death and loss.

The brash new world of the New World, with its sexual freedom, motorcars, youth, money, gin, rum and whiskey is in your face throughout the film and Baz Luhrmann makes the real star of the novel, pagan and glamorous New York City, look like the magic kingdom. Do see it.

The eyes have it

Sunday, 12 May, 2013 0 Comments

“But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you percieve, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T.J.Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T.J.Eckleburg are blue and gigantic — their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous […]

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Vampire Weekend starts here

Saturday, 11 May, 2013 0 Comments

Their new album, Modern Vampires of the City, will be officially released on Monday and the expectations are that with it Vampire Weekend will transcend the novelties of the noughties and establish themselves as a band of some considerable sophistication and endurance. As next week here on Rainy Day will be devoted to The Great Gatsby, there’s no better way to warm up than with Step, which is all about words and feelings plus imagery of the place that’s central to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece: “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.”

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Trouble of the most sweet and tender kind

Monday, 25 February, 2013 0 Comments

Proust family The Irish writer Colm Toibin went to an exhibition in the Morgan Library in New York City that celebrates the 1913 publication of Swann’s Way, the first of the seven volumes in Marcel Proust’s monumental À la recherche du temps perdu. Upon seeing a photo of the novelist’s mother, he developed a certain sympathy for her situation:

“Mme Proust is seated, looking to the left, while her sons, young men in their twenties, stand on either side of her. They are beautifully dressed and have a look in their eyes that suggests the boulevard and the salon. There is something feline and sleek about the pair of them. It is easy to imagine why maman is so dour-looking and disapproving, her mouth firmly closed, her eyes fixed on the ground. She is a woman who knows what trouble looks like, and these boys are ready for trouble of the most sweet and tender and pleasurable kind.”

From The Sweet Troubles of Proust in the New York Review of Books blog.