Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I have also found that in New York bitterness makes the beautiful more stunning and the ugly more grotesque. It has something to do with the way we hold our heads, with the way we pierce our lips upon disappointment. We reign it in better than most. The same cannot be said, however, about anger. It makes all of us unattractive no matter the circumstance. Anger cannot be masked.
Well, dear reader, while I haven't necessarily been pissed off this week I have been... off. Just slightly off. It started with a tough conversation about New York herself and ended in yours truly getting deeply hurt by a stupid (yes, STUPID) reality TV show and then not being able to turn on the morning news in fear of what Oskar Schell would call heavy boots.
It's rough out there, people.
Luckily... there is another saving grace in New York to aid in the off-ness... It's a lovely little mixture of friends, conversation, and downtown wine bars. Last night it was Xicala on the LES mixed with Katie and Allison and light discussions on life that brought me down to a normally functioning level. While Xicala wasn't our first choice (did Peasant close?) it was there for me with open arms, soft lighting, and $5 glasses of house red. We also love the queso. Yes, please.
Like I said... it's rough out there. Gotham City will kick you when you least expect it, and drag you along its tax-payer littered streets without so much as a friendly hello. Luckily we are New Yorkers, and by basic definition are tougher than most. We can take it. And as the Beatles would say (I know, two random pop culture refs in one post... give me a break, I'm OFF, people) we get by with a little help from our friends.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Monday, March 23, 2009
The beauty of Sunshine Cleaning exists in moments like the quoted dialogue above... Amy Adams holding her head high, taking a deep breath, and conquering the world without complaint. I love her in this movie.
I first saw Sunshine Cleaning at a screening and again this past weekend with Meg, Karen, and Katie at that cute Cobble Hill theater off Butler street.
Amy Adams tends to smile with each word she says. Happy, sad, excited, non-emotional, emotional... every word. (Maggie Gyllenhall does this too-- watch Trust the Man, its gorgeous.) She smiles with her eyes but also with her mouth, translating to that 'full of life' quality that is so very difficult to pinpoint.
Emily Blunt follows suit, but only in one very specific scene, while talking about the death of her mother. If you pay attention, you will see that always Amy holds her head high while Emily looks to the floor. Its such a theater-y trick but works perfectly in this film essentially about the dynamic of two very different sisters.
Sunshine Cleaning represents the rare film about love in a non-romantic or even friendship form. Neither character enters any sort of hopeful romance, nor do they necessarily grow leaps and bounds with each other. And that's okay. The love exists (as love should) in the form of vocation, in the form of pride.
Rose learns to love herself and love those she encounters in her crime scene clean up business. It is a love story, get it? "We enter people's lives when they have experienced something profound. And sad. And we come in and clean it up and make it better." (The baby shower scene is phenomenal. I love, love, love watching Amy Adams talk about her work. It's just stunningly fresh.)
The grand swirling idea that I left this film with is the idea that we can be happy if we chose to be. It's that simple. We take what we have, do it really well, and find not only happiness but love. I think of Rose a lot while going about my days. I think about her handling of conflict, about her smiling through disappointment, and about her way of living without complaint or sorrow.
Rose has what I would consider a terrible, terrible life but has found a profound sense of self. She has what so few of us have... contentment and honor. And she spends her days scrubbing blood off shower walls and emptying body fluids into bio hazard waste containers. I look at myself and realize that I can do the same while calling galleries, while researching shows. Its about pouring love into every crevice of living... Rose does it better than anyone I've seen (save Poppy, maybe...).
I like that this film left romance out. We met Rose while she was mid-affair with a married high school boyfriend and left her when she was standing tall on her own two feet. They perhaps (perhaps!) hinted at a maybe-romance with the cleaning store guy but I, reader, don't think that was the point. The one-armed-cleaning-store-owner represented Rose's ability to see the world without judgement, to accept without thinking twice. He was the embodiment of 'rejected' and Rose welcomed him into her life with ease. Argue with me if you please, but he wasn't part of the plot, he was part of the meaning.
This movie caused me to think, to ponder, to change. (I mean it!) I no longer gag while cleaning the food bits from my sink drain, nor do I think twice before getting on my hands and knees to clean the toilet and take out the trash (stinky! stinky! stinky!, right Katinka?) And as I said before it altered the way I view my work and my vocation. The film was heartwarming and comforting where I expected crude humor.
I hope Amy and Emily can work together again soon, they killed it. In a good way. :)
Friday, March 20, 2009
Also, read this one. The last paragraph specifially jumps off the page and right into my bucket of word envy. Smart and thoughtful; snappy and true.
From the same article comes the stunning cut paper piece above is by Rodrigo Corral, one of my favorite designers. It captures her, doesn't it? With two pieces of torn paper. That's talent, people.
You did it again, NY Mag. Well done.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
The reading was held at Idlewild Books on 19th street (which you should absolutely visit if you haven't yet) and featured Molly Witzenburg of Orangette and her newly released food memoir, A Homemade Life. The event sold out (well, didn't sell really, it was free. But the booking was full) within an hour of its announcement. Hundreds of greedy New Yorkers jumped at the chance to connect with this blogger-turned-columnist-turned-author.
Alison introduced me to Orangette just a few weeks ago and I purchased the book a day later. I finished it within two days-- a record for this very slow reader-- and was thrilled to learn that she would be giving a reading in New York the next week. This is why New York is awesome. These coincidences aren't all that uncommon.
Molly is inspiring in the least obnoxious way possible. I have had multiple conversations trying to pinpoint exactly what makes her so fantastic, concluding that her charm rests on a very genuine tone and unpretentious way of living and writing. She is sincere in a sect filled with irony. She is the anti-hipster. Finally.
Molly also inspired one of the best Saturdays I've had in a long while... Orangette Day. Al and I picked a few recipes from her book, went to the Ft. Greene farmers' market, and cooked a meal that we shared with Annie that night. (It was at that farmers' market that I also found something I've been searching for for over a year-- purple potatoes.)
We made a radicchio, avocado, feta, and endive salad; purple potatoes with shaved parm and fresh lemon; toasted french bread with butter, radishes, and sea salt; and for dessert a lovely berry pound cake. Amazing. And only a little embarrassing that our obsession has gone this far.
The real beauty of this obsession, however, is that Molly has gained a book deal and relatively large following from a blog. She is a blogger at heart, which of course strikes a cord with Little Miss Somuchtofallinlovewith over here. Orangette began as a way to hold herself accountable to writing and thinking, and somehow morphed into a monthly column in Bon Appétit and then a book deal with Simon & Schuster. This route is VERY APPEALING. That is a hint if you are an editor or someone important in publishing or anyone besides my mother and auntie who might be the only readers of this blog. VERY APPEALING. Not that I have ANY right at all to write a book, but come on. VERY APPEALING.
(Oh, and she also met her husband through her blog. I'm not going to advertise myself for that particular route, but did want to throw it out there.)
A Homemade Life reads quickly and familiarly. It leads us through a spectrum of comfort and fear, thought and perception. Both Alison and I found ourselves sobbing on the subway while reading this book... really! Tears streaming down my face! Molly writes from her heart and whips up a tangible embodiment of each story in the form of recipes at each chapter's conclusion. To just go with the cheesiness that is this post I am going to call her writing delicious. Because it is.
So after a drink at Apsen tonight ($5 sangria, yes please.) with Lizzie, Al and I strolled to Idlewild to bring this flurry of excitement to fruition. We were going to meet Molly.
I was definitely prepared for disappointment, as my last book signing event went VERY, VERY badly. (It involved Nigella Lawson and an incredibly awkward photo, I can't think about it any more than that, it was so embarrassing.) I also know from experience that meeting anyone who holds that much admiration will only fail to live up to expectations. But Molly didn't disappoint. She rocked.
She talked about how she came to be standing on that stage with that microphone... about her late father, about Paris, about food. She spoke with much grace and appreciation, and seemed so honestly surprised to find herself the center of so much positive attention. She acted like any of us would have... she blushed.
Then came the evening's highlight: the question and answer portion of the night. Lets remember now that Alison and I both know EVERYTHING about Molly Witzenburg. We read her blog, read her memoir, and look at her photos on flickr. What else could we possibly need to ask her?
Well, after reading the chapter entitled 'Summer of Change' (mocking a Judy Blume title, so funny) Molly turned to the audience for questions. Lets remember that there are over 150 people packed into this tiny bookstore, all of which are obsessed with Molly and her work. But its crickets. NO ONE has a question. Ugh.
So I, reverting back to my college art history courses, grudgingly raised my hand to relieve this poor girl. I hated when Nancy Thompson would stand in front of our class and ask something about Roman columns or Giotto's impact without anchoring a single response, and I hated when Molly looked fearfully out into her entire New York fan base without a peep. I always feel so bad for people in those situations. No one deserves that fearful silence. So, just as I did for Nancy Thompson, I quickly found a suitable question to ask Molly.
'Molly, your book is extremely fluid and readable while remaining thoughtful and fresh. Who has inspired you, and who do you read? Do you have any recommendations in food writing or other topics?' (Wordy, I know, but that's me.) I had just had a conversation with Alison about what we had been reading and was actually truly interested in her response. I have fallen in love with memoirs as of late but have a difficult time sorting through the shelves without any guidance. However, we are both currently reading novels. Alison is reading Netherland and I am reading Michael Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.
"Well," said Molly, looking directly at me, "the book that has had the biggest influence on me and on my writing is Michael Chabon's 'The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.'"
I know. Maybe I will turn into her after all.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
I've seen Walk the Line a million times and still get sucked in and completely invested with each viewing. I had a long (but lovely) day at the art fairs and stuck this movie in when I got home to clear my head and fall into another world. It worked. Katie and I took turns exclaiming our love for June Carter and her enviable sixties wardrobe and groaning as Johnny took another handful of pills before crashing into something terrible. We love this film.
The music comforts me and reminds me of my summers spent in the Ozark Mountains where crickets scream at nightfall. I never listen to country music but I love good bluegrass for that very reason--- it feels like a place, like a memory. I also have never cared much for Johnny Cash (sorry) but Holly and I learned every word to this film when it first came out. We tried to listen to Johnny and June but kept going back to Joaquin and Reese. And yes, even I judge us for that.
That said, the blending of music and dialogue is seamless and quite important. We understand the performance as just that, but also feel the pulsing emotion behind each word. It's stressful for most of the movie because, well, Johnny Cash couldn't walk a line.
While the film is essentially about Johnny Cash, its June who pulls us in. Reese Witherspoon won the Oscar for this role and rightly so. Joaquin is also phenomenal as Mr. Cash (And while we're on it, what is going on with him right now?! Anyone?! Crazy bearded man!? Wowza.) and the two are completely believable as static forces intertwined with strength and necessary pull.
June holds more strength and poise than any female character I've encountered in a long time. She isn't perfect, in fact her flaws are many and her mistakes epic. But June faces her life and its difficulties with absolute presence and honesty. There are no excuses, she casts no blame. Watch her with Johnny when he first tries to kiss her. Note her words in the market when faced with cruel criticism. Pay attention to her reaction to Johnny's demise and her strength when he needs her most. She looks everything and everyone straight in the eye and loves with the biggest of hearts so very effortlessly.
If I ever have a little girl I'm going to point her towards June Carter in terms of learning crucial lessons of grace, acceptance, forgiveness, and above all, love. Not romantic love, but human love (I wish for the umpteenth time that we had as many words for love as the Greeks do).
Ginnifer Goodwin, on the other hand, again plays a heinous female character whom no one should ever look up to. Yes, she was right in many (most!) aspects but her handling of conflict is what she got so terribly wrong. I could go on about this, but as my sister Laura would say when faced with someone really awful... I'm just glad I'm not her.
Walk the Line is a great film. A gorgeous, thoughtful, and important film. It's a world to fall into and a wonderful escape from all things city. As I lay here, in my bed in Brooklyn way past my bedtime, I can almost hear the crickets screaming their harsh summer songs.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
I was finally able to curl up at home tonight to take it in while nursing a nasty midwinter cold and eating leftover stir fry. It was fantastic. The film stars an old crotchety Clint Eastwood as Walk Kowalski, a Koren war veteran fresh from his wife's funeral.
We are introduced to Walt as a mean, bitter old man who doesn't care about his family and hates the world. He scowls at his Hmong neighbors and nearly growls with each word he speaks. A young priest tries to reach out upon his late wife's request but to no avail. Walt wants to be left alone, wants to be left in peace. So why would my dear father relate to this character? I know, it confused me at first too.
The story turns when Walt accidentally saves his young neighbor and becomes directly involved in Hmong gang activity in his ever changing neighborhood. He does his best to avoid it but finds his shotgun in the nose of one too many bad guys to not turn into a hero. He opens his door to his front stoop filled with bouquets flowers and crocks of food and kind smiles in gratitude for saving a life. And from there we find our story.
What rang true in this film was a basic understanding of human connection. We hated how narrowly Walt's sons understood him. The was of course an aftermath of his fathering but I am a firm believer in never talking down to another human, no matter the circumstance. They treated him like a child and expected cooperation. Even if he were a child, that was no way to talk to someone. Children and elderly are not idiots. Don't talk to them as if they are.
In contrast, a teenaged Hmong girl from next door spoke to him not with respect, exactly, but as his equal. She talked back to his growling commands and smiled at his terrible racial slurs and opened her heart to the mean man next door. And Walt, dear friends, slowly began to melt. He started to connect to people and ask questions and slowly (slowly!) understand their differences. It was nothing short of beautiful.
I know why my dad laughed, I could hear the familiar sound in the back of my head, especially during the 'man lesson' scenes at the barber and the construction site. They are men of a certain generation and of certain circumstance. They own shotguns and hang out as buddies at the VFW. They lived through a war and talk like it. It was funny. Well, once you could get past the intense racism and harsh standards. But yes, it was funny.
Walt represents an aging generation of the old American Dream. He gains pride from the upkeep of his nuclear home and American made car. He does everything himself and spends his days fixing loose ends. He mows his lawn with an old push lawnmower and keeps his gutters clean and his car waxed. The irony stings when his son and daughter in law suggest a retirement community and tools to make life easier. Can't they see that his home has become his vocation? That fixing things keeps him sane, keeps him busy? I love that he threw them out.
Did he remind me of my dad? Ummm... not really. My dad is much more sensitive and moral and inquisitive than he gives himself credit for. He likes learning new things, gets excited about change, and never ends a phone call without telling me he loves me. He did a fantastic job raising his three girls and was very much a part of our lives. He will never end up alone like Walt did.
The one blaring similarity between Walt Kowalski and Blake Butler is that he will always, without exception, do the right thing in the end. Its a difficult standard to live up to, but I welcome the challenge.
Did I cry at the end? Of course I did, that's just who I am. I hurt for Walt and for his new friends and even for the dog, Daisy. It all added up... the Hmong gang in handcuffs, Tao with the Gran Torino, and Walt as a crucifix, ending his life with honor.
Thanks, Dad, for the rec. I really enjoyed this movie.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Upon exiting the elevator on my way to meet friends in West Village for dinner, I got a call from my theater friend Colleen who had three free tickets for that night's performance. Do you want them she asked? Yes please!
So Katie, Chris and I scampered up to Broadway, grabbed a coffee and our free tickets (I love free tickets more than anything) and settled into our red velvet sets for the next three hours. I love West Side Story.
The show opens with a long, stretching overture and dance number so rarely seen in shows today. The Sharks and Jets spring onto stage with snaps and pirouettes and shocking grande jettes. We are whisked into Sondheim's world as he intended... fighting via ballet kicks and choreographed punches... dancing with bright skirts and stomping heels.
We all know the story... its Romeo & Juliet with a trick ending. Tony and Maria fall in love without so much as a hello and then die a day later at the fault of their families and friends. Its a tragic tale of racism, boundary, and true love. The story serves as a warning to all of us about hatred and decency. Maria's final monologue hits us at our core as she forces the gun into the faces of Sharks and Jets alike. It's stinging... a difficult point to hit in musical theater. And it works.
This production specifically wowed me is ways I haven't felt in a while. I was most impressed with the small changes including a large amount of Spanish. I Feel Pretty was sung completely in Spanish, as was the entire dialogue in the Maria bedroom scene. The Sharks spoke to each other only in their native tongue, just as they would, and nothing was translated for the audience. This worked primarily because we all know the story, but also because we are more able to understand human interaction than we give ourselves credit for.
I once heard a story on NPR about a deaf girl who worked at a shoe store without any of her customers ever knowing that she was deaf. What could first be attributed a lip reading was revealed as a basic understanding of the human condition. Ladies and gentleman, she even answered the phone. She said she could understand maybe every 10th word which allowed her to connect the dots and string sentences together.
Humans are just so predictable, she laughed with the host. People rarely surprise us, and when they do its usually within a certain realm. No, I can't hear. But I have found a way to understand. The same goes with the Spanish in this rendition of West Side Story. Of course we know what Maria is saying when told that Bernardo was killed. Of course we do.
The singing was spectacular, the dancing right on pitch. We laughed and cried and felt. It took me back to a time in my life when entire afternoons were spent enveloped in musicals with my sisters and friends... under big quilts with popcorn and Sunkist lemonade.
Natalie and Holly first introduced the music and FANTASTIC movie (Natalie Wood, so great!) to my sisters and I. Remember that blue spandex skirt from the Mrs. Singer years? We had the record and would sing and dance to Sondheim's ripping 60's brass numbers and memorize each step and snap in our cold basement during those long summer days.
Holly was probably Maria, Nat would have been Anita, and Laura most likely donned the blazer and cowboy boots as dear Tony. I would have been one of the dancers with those awesome flamenco skirts (substituted by the Christmas Tree skirt, no doubt) twirling and shrieking in the background. Chels would have been Rif.
Am I right?
Monday, March 2, 2009
Our friendship began almost two years ago when I sent Lauren a desperate (though very composed) email looking for a place to stay for a month upon my impending move to Manhattan. I kind of knew her from college (her friends knew my friends) and found her name on the Ole Almni site. She happened to have a room open and I moved in one week later. From there we slowly crept into each others' lives. I say slowly because we were pretty much afraid of each other from the get-go.
I was bright eyed and bushy tailed... in love with EVERYTHING I saw and extremely optimistic about my new life in the big city. She was a grad student who just finished her thesis on... what did you write about, Lo? Vomiting? But despite all odds, we bonded one night over Bedazzles and when I moved out a month later we started seeing movies together every Monday and laughing each week over burritos and soda with lots of lime. Thus, Movie Monday was born. And two very different girls became besties.
Its been exactly one year since she moved to Seattle from New York and I miss her always. (Always, always, right, Lo? Definitely. Maybe!)
Every word in her entry below is true and all of her words help explain all of my words. We're good for each other, we've decided.
No, really: Sarah and I are VERY different, people. We’ve come up with a bunch of analogies to describe the contrast – a photograph and its negative, two sides to the same coin – but I think the best one we’ve come up with is this: I am the Meredith Grey to Sarah’s Izzy Stevens. That statement is so true that I just had to think for several minutes about what Izzy’s last name really was, because all I could think of was Butler. But we found our common ground on Movie Mondays, a weekly tradition of a movie (preferably at one of the good, downtown theaters) and dinner (Chipotle) that went on for over six months, just the two of us.
The thing about me is that I am really, really self-absorbed. Like, probably to an extent that it could be clinically diagnosed as something, though I like to think that I’m aware of it enough to keep it from making me 100% insufferable. For example: I have made, over the past year, four mix cds called “The Lauren Hoffman Songs” and one called “Have Yourself a Maudlin Little Christmas,” all of which were songs that were, clearly, all about me. And only me. Specifically.
This means that every Monday for six months, after every movie we saw – Across the Universe, Lars and the Real Girl, The Savages, Enchanted, The Darjeeling Limited, and I think even Atonement, but only because I REALLY looked like that creepy kid when I was little – Sarah would get to hear a litany of reasons why the movie we’d just seen was all about me. And after awhile, she got into the act too (ask her about 27 Dresses sometime).
You can call it vanity or whatever. You can call it self-absorption (see the above paragraph, because I already have). But I kind of think it’s okay. Better than okay, even. There’s a way in which thinking things are all about you is completely selfish. Feeling like a work of art – a book or a painting or an Amy Adams movie or, God help me, an Ashlee Simpson song – was created for you makes you feel special. Unique. Singled out. There is the silent, smug joy of knowing you are the only one who can TRULY understand.
But thinking something is yours also makes you forge a connection that is unimaginably deep with it. You laugh harder. You cry so hard you choke. You live and die with the characters on the screen. You get to feel so ridiculously fucking passionate about something, and I am of the belief that one) passion is the best thing humanity is capable of and two) passion is the best response a filmmaker, lyricist, author, whatever, can hope for.
And feeling so intensely about something abstract – it stretches you. It’s almost like a rehearsal, like you’re using something pretend to open a valve in you that lets this deep, all-consuming feeling run through. I’m of the belief – and I’ve had enough intense feelings and, um, therapy to feel like I’m qualified to speak on the matter – that when you learn to feel true passion and connection in one area of your life, others follow. It seems like feeling like art is all about you should close you off, narrow your scope, but it opens. It widens.
No, really. It’s true.
And that’s why, if I’m ever staring Carly Simon in the face, and she has occasion to raise her eyebrows at me and say, “You’re so vain. You probably think this song is about you,” I will stare right back at her, and I will say, “Damn. Straight.”