Monthly Archives: July 2012

“The Vine That Ate The South”

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After waking up on the floor of Justin’s apartment to the bright sunlight, we made our way to Richmond proper for the Museum of the Confederacy, and the Confederate’s briefly inhabited White House. I admit that yours truly contracted a severe case of PCG (Pre-Caffeine Grumpiness), making finding a place to eat breakfast a bit difficult. Something Jay and I are discovering is how difficult it can be to make snap decisions together in a way that doesn’t involve raised voices or frustration. In general, I’m shockingly bad at making real-world decisions “in the moment”.

Like, as we’re driving, we pass a Starbucks. “Do you want to stop here?” Jay might say. In my head: “But what does he want for breakfast? But don’t we want to find a local place for a more authentic travel experience? But maybe I do just want coffee I know will be reliably okay, even if not great. But what if there’s a better place just around the corner? But what about food? Starbucks hardly has ‘real food.’ But they do have oatmeal! You like oatmeal for breakfast!” And then we’ve passed it. Ridiculous! Fucking exhausting.

I want to get better at this sort of thing, but I’m not sure how. I guess my training in college literature and psychology classes–even theater-related studies–has guided me to never stop asking questions, to never even desire black and white answers, because the Truth is never black and white. But hello! There are clearly some, nay, many occasions which do require you to simply make a decision and forget the ambiguity, at least temporarily. Just do it! I guess this is where you get the stereotype that academics can’t function in the real world. And yet, here we are–Jay a completed PhD and myself a mere hopeful, with the former much better at snap decisions than the latter. Something for me to think about and work on.

So, the Confederacy Museum! What we saw of Richmond was beautiful; the Capitol building was atop a green hill with beautiful little fountains and rose bushes, statues of and buildings devoted to past American presidents. A huge hospital and medical center–Virginia Commonwealth University’s–weaves in and out of the Civil War history buildings in the Capitol district, which is where we stayed. The tour of the Confederate White House was beautiful and fascinating; our tour guide Charles was very engaging. (And very friendly to us! Got a shorthand rundown of our New York-California trek and said, “Wow! How lucky of you guys, to have choices like that.” Of course, I thought, he didn’t have the whole story. But he’s right. We are lucky.) The house was beautifully upholstered and wallpapered, many different floral prints and crushed velvet patterns.

I also knew next to nothing about the rebellion’s one presidential family. Jefferson Davis, and his wife Verina, seemed to be very sharp, even wise. Seemed like Jefferson took his job very seriously, even though it was appointed to him–sounds like he maybe didn’t even want such a tall order on his shoulders. And Verina seemed a tour de force all her own. Fluent in four languages, a witty conversationalist who could hold her own with anybody, man or woman, and allegedly so much of a personality that Jefferson had to take a break from her for weeks at a time! When the war was over and after Jefferson died (rather destitute and ill, sadly enough), she was still spry and very much alive. In her mid-sixties and in need of money, she got herself a job as a columnist for a journal in New York City, lived in an apartment by herself, and became best friends with the wife of Ulysses S. Grant! I thought that was pretty amazing.

The Museum itself was less inspiring, but there was a section that focused less on the battles and generals, and more on individual stories of soldiers. Many were illiterate before the war, apparently, and indeed learned to write because of it. I guess the extraordinary amount of down time, combined with the breadth of economic classes represented in the army led to such exchanges of knowledge. Some of my favorite letter excerpts the museum displayed:

“When watermelon get ripe, send me one in a letter.” -B. F. Jackson

“I believe the biggest half of our study here is about something to eat and the other part is about wives and sweethearts.” -William J. Whetley

It talked about how food ration minimums were hardly ever met, and how so many were missing their ladies back home. A facet of many wars, to be sure, but the frequent misspellings in the love letters especially made them so endearing and real to me.

Verina was also apparently a talented letter writer herself, and it got me thinking about writing letters as an art form. When women were not permitted to publish novels but were learning to read and write more and more, I suppose they could journal, and/or write letters. Journaling certainly can be satisfying, but it lacks an audience. But a letter! That must have been a great means of expression for women in this time, especially when one received such a reciprocal response in the form of another letter. It makes me want to research correspondences from women to women throughout history.

After lunch in the hospital cafeteria in Richmond (Einstein Brothers’ Bagels! Reminds me of my time in Evanston), we found the highway once again and traversed Virginia and North Carolina, into Winston-Salem. Jay’s brother and sister in-law live there, and they took us to a Mexican restaurant (Los Estrellas) and a bar (Tate’s) downtown. A short visit, this one, but neat. The drive down was filled with biblical billboards, cigarette factories (Marlboro, Camel, &c), and kudzu weeds slowly choking the trees lining the road.  Jay, i.e. the keeper of all trivia, says that apparently these guys grow so fast you measure their growth in feet per day. Whoa.

Some things just happen too fast.

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Olympic Gymnastics is the Most Fun to Watch

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Just drove from DC to Richmond, Virginia. We’re staying with a friend of Jay’s from high school, who is graciously allowing us to couch crash even though he is in the middle of moving himself. Watching the Olympics in a mostly empty apartment is a nice respite from such a bustling day, couch potatoe-ing to the frenetic rhythm of the absurdly impressive young gymnasts. We ate at a neat place, the Capital Ale House; got a local Drake Trail Pale Ale from Williamsburg, Virginia. Ate one of the vegetarian options–black bean burger with sweet potato fries. It was delicious, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised; I’ve been warned that vegetable sightings in the South can be rare.

Overall, a peaceful evening. I think we’ll both sleep well tonight.

Road Warriors

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[Photo of me in silly yellow plastic sunglasses that Jay says make me look “totally hipster.” “But they work!” I protest. “And they were free!”]

We have traversed Washington, the District of Columbia! And also a part of Maryland (where we stayed in a hotel for a much reasonabler price than DC proper would have been). And probably some Virginia along the way? I was still a little unclear about where the borders actually were when we left.

First impression: DC is so sprawling! I must still be NYC-culture shocked (“Sounds of nature? A view of the moon? A subway platform that isn’t sweltering and smelling like garbage?”), but this city feels more like a very well-cultivated, enormous park, with some buildings in between. Okay a lot of buildings, but it still all feels very landscaped: manicured, intentional. Maybe it’s just that it’s so clean.

Also there are a lot of marble and stone and pillars. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of Ancient Greece, but I’ve found I really like those things. Unfortunately, I’ve also found (maybe “re-found” is more appropriate) that I really don’t like a lot of what Washington DC features: the details of America’s history.

It’s true, the Washington Monument is sweet (looks like it belongs in Egypt or a 2001: A Space Odyssey rather than our nation’s capital), and the Lincoln Memorial is unquestionably awe-inspiring (reminds me of when Hercules in the Disney movie visits Zeus’ temple; I half-wished that Lincoln would come to life in all his enormous marbled glory), but inside the famous Rotunda of the National Archives, staring at the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, I found myself hardly whelmed. Underwhelmed. Unwhelmed!

This made me disappointed. I feel like it must be some failure of imagination on my part, that I don’t find it exciting to see. Why don’t I enjoy learning about the trials fought to make our country what it is? Do I have some self-deprecating American hatred-type complex? There are certainly reasons to be less than super-patriotic these days, but I dislike the “America sucks!” posture, as it seems to me that most of the people spouting the slogan are, from what I can tell, benefiting from most of the good things living in America can privilege one with.

I am certain, though, that my interest flopped from mild to nonexistent when I read about Abigail Adams’ role during the Revolutionary War. It was sizable, it seems, and she sounds pretty kick-ass, but the plaque about her included a quotation:

“We cannot be free without being secure in our property.”

I couldn’t help it; I thought rather loudly, “Yeah, but even after the war, you still couldn’t!” Maybe the response to my complaint is of the Rome-wasn’t-built-in-a-day variety, but I suppose I’m yearning for a giant block of museums devoted to great things women have done in history. The National Archives (which are actually very cool, in their entirety) house what seems like a stupidly huge amount of photos and records available for public research, and so theoretically there is a ton of information about great women in there. But where is their grandiose exhibit? I’ll have to get to work on that.

Last night we met up with Jay’s friend Priyanka in Cleveland Park (a residential part of DC) and got sushi. Uhm, heck yes. The neighborhood had a cute villagey feel, with many non-chain restaurants–in fact they intentionally avoid chains; the new Chipotle was apparently a hot source of contention at the moment–and nice, friendly looking architecture. It’s also right by the woodsy Rock Creek Park, and it all reminded me a bit of Westwood with its gentle hills and foliage. At the restaurant we got a gargantuan “Roll Lover for Three” platter and just devoured it. It was quite spectacular. Favorites were the “spicy girl roll”–it had pink soy paper (why’s it gotta be pink, huh? (kidding)) instead of seaweed–and the Godzilla roll.

Shortly after dinner we turned in for the night, to a  hotel with air conditioning and a King size bed and a total absence of mosquitoes–what a blissful release from the past month in our Harlem bedroom of sweat, bug bites, and a tiny twin bed! I think both of our backs and shoulders were Hallelujah’ing in our sleep.

Oh, today we also stopped in the Smithsonian Castle (designed by Renwick) and ate hot dogs near a carousel on the National Mall. Ran into a friend from elementary school, and was delighted by the co-inky-dink (as my mom would say). What are the odds of a thing like that happening?

The title of this post is in reference to a comment Jay made in the car. I needed a napkin, and Jay said there’d probably be some in the glove compartment from his McDonald’s breakfast the other day (I know, McDonalds? But his parents met in one years ago, so I give him a break…). Because, you know, they always give you way more than you need and then you’re sitting on all these extra napkins. “Unless,” he says, “You’re road warriors like us.”

Yeah! Warriors. Not worriers, as Kelly Cutrone would say. That’s right, I read my roommate’s copy of Kelly’s book between the hours of 5 and 8am the morning before I left (Thanks, Caroline!).

What Luck!

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Only day one, and already I have the fortune of seeing a familiar face in a new town: the lovely Slade Magenta! The town was Philly, and it was a quick visit, but satisfying.

We stopped there midday, met up with Slade for lunch, and then had the fortune to see the awe-inspiring collection of Matisse, Cezanne, Picasso, and Renoir (among others) at the Barnes Foundation.

I will be frank: visual art is difficult for me. I don’t seek out art museums, and when I find myself there I feel like I’m not “doing it right”, getting tired of walking around and making thoughtful faces at the paintings. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, or don’t think they’re beautiful–but often I get to a point where it all becomes too much. It would be like going to a worldwide theater festival, and seeing every play back to back, no intermission. My brain stops seeing anything but frames and paint bleeding into each other and elderly patrons listening to their iPod-guided tours on headphones and security guards telling me I’m standing too close and !! I’m overwhelmed.

I have had the thought that perhaps because my main immersion in “Art” is theater, and so I am accustomed to my art “meeting me halfway.” In a play, characters speak to each other, they move of their own autonomy, things are going to happen even if you’re not paying attention to them. The challenge to stay with the show, forcing the audience to be in the moment with them is one I am familiar with. But the challenge of staring at a (usually) flat piece of canvas with stuff on it and trying to cull meaning or beauty or (most difficult) communication from it, while it just sits there–I find that challenge so difficult. (Of course, now that I’ve said this, I feel compelled to take on this challenge: surely there is a great skill to be gained.)

But this–back to the Barnes Foundation–was so much different. Okay, the security guards were still constantly telling me I was too close, but other than that, I really enjoyed it.

I admit I didn’t read every plaque about the guy, but basically the Barnes Foundation comprises the art collection of Albert C. Barnes, a guy who made a fortune making eye drops to prevent babies from going blind from gonorrhea transmitted by their mothers at birth (as Jay commented, “Man, you don’t think about all the strange ailments we don’t have to worry about since antibiotics were invented.”).  But the awesome part is that, not only having made this major life-improving thing, he took on an entirely new journey into education. He was in love with the four painters above, and so I guess “followed his bliss” (thanks J. Campbell) to study aesthetics and art criticism. He formed a bond with John Dewey (another cool dude whose bio is outside the scope of this post–I got things to do!) and then endeavored to educate his own factory workers on things like aesthetics and art criticism. So cool! Can you imagine if every minimum-wage worker in the United States could take complimentary classes on college level subjects? Were encouraged to do so?

I think what I also love is that the collection is so specific, so “Albert Barnes”, instead of so “MOMA”, so “METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART”, &c. When I go to a “big box museum”, I feel so overwhelmed by the all-encompassing-ness of it, pressured to take in everything and get educated by all the Art. What I liked about this was that it wasn’t trying to show me every piece and type of art that has ever existed. It wasn’t trying to teach me everything about visual art in one fell swoop. It was simply trying to show me a glimpse into a few painters’ bodies of work. I felt like I wasn’t trying to bite off more than I could chew, and that I was actually delving into the art, instead of just scraping my nails across the surface.

So that was the Barnes. If you’re ever in Philly, definitely go. And say hello to my friend Slade! Our visit was much too short.

As for food, the two places Jay and I stopped in were a Whole Foods and a Starbucks. I felt a little silly about this, but you know what? I enjoy a good salad. And I’m sure all the cheesesteaks and what-not will still be there the next time I visit.

Why am I still awake?

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Sometimes painting my nails just feels like the right thing to do.

This is one of those times. They’re now drying, and I’m staring around at my possessions in duffel bags, Google mapping stop to stop (because yes, I’m still living in the stone age and lack a smart phone. Jay has one, but what if there’s no service, huh?), feeling my eyes oh-so-bleary and vision blurry from crying goodbyes and other difficulties and yes I’m going to miss it here but

holy crap all the suddenly I am *so excited!!*

So much so that it’s like my brain had a tiny seizure that requires incorrect adverb usage to convey how electric and sparkly and gone-in-a-flash it was.

I’m probably going to hate this post when I wake up in a few hours. But that thimble-full of a sensation was awesome, and felt genuine.

I can’t wait to be on the road, out-of-date navigation tools and silly plastic sunglasses perched at the ready.

Still In New York, Redux

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The three summers I have spent in New York City (2009, 2011, and 2012) have all felt a bit like being dropped into the pond of a Murakami short story. I’m constantly finding myself awake at strange hours, hot and restless, mystified by the shade of the early light coming through the window and how the little mundanities of my life feel somehow portentous.

I sit at Silver Spurs and wonder, “Will this be my last shitty cup of New York diner coffee?” Or later that same day, “Will this ’round table discussion’ at an absurdly nice TriBeCa apartment being house sat by my best friends be how I remember them, frozen in time until we see each other again?” … If, ever?

I imagine returning to New York, but who knows, really? I suppose this question bleeds into another one, which is (hold onto your hats, New Yorkers):

“How much do I even like New York City?”

Some days, I can’t imagine living elsewhere. Other days… I remember reading on an OkCupid profile that someone thought New York City to be the most status obsessed, social-climbing place he had ever been (he had traveled a lot). Assuming that’s true–I could imagine a decent argument–this city and I are simply not compatible. Amassing wealth and social butterflying have never been interests of mine, let alone skills. I’m too neurotic, too unaware of the rules that govern that world.

Example: housing-wise, I have no idea where I fit. I can’t afford the areas of what seems to be my demographic, but in living elsewhere–i.e., Harlem–I feel like I’m part of this ugly “gentrification” process.

So, either I find a way to afford a lifestyle that seems exorbitant (to me, unused to New York prices) and I have privilege guilt. Or I live in Harlem and feel guilt anyway, for being/appearing to be a part of the always-occurring “urban renewal” I see going on–every time a bodega is torn down for a new Duane Reade, or hear the obnoxious Columbia undergrads throwing a part in our largely family-occupied building’s courtyard: “Hey Harlem! Who wants to get fucked up and get fucked?”

Add to all this the fact that, at the end of the day, I was raised in a certain suburban comfort. And am used to certain, well, creature comforts (like spacious, air-conditioned Duane Reades, or streets not smelling like garbage…), and you can call me Miss Ambivalence.

Because you pay a lot to get so little on this island, in terms of physical living space and the quality of it. But, you get to live in the most culture-rich city in the United States. At least in terms of the performing arts–my field in one way or a million–there just is no place else with so much going on.

And yet (not even mentioning that high quantity doesn’t necessarily mean high quality) I’m just one person! How much does one person need to live? To survive? To thrive? This all varies by one’s definitions, and preferences, I suppose–and those are what I need to ascertain for myself. What are my requirements, my needs, my demands of my habitat? To quote another OKCupid profile (in response to “5 things you couldn’t live without”), “I’ve lived with a lot and I’ve lived with very little. I’ve found there are many things I can do without.”

For the next bit of time, anyway, I’ll be surviving on what I can fit in half of a sedan–hopefully that will illuminate some of these quandaries and queries. Also hopefully, these burgeoning questions won’t drive Jay Will Math crazy along the way. And finally hopefully, if I do return to New York, I’ll have a clearer idea of how I feel about it when I do.

But for now, adios muchachos! “You rock, don’t ever change!” (Kidding.)