The Culture Diaries
January 12, 2012 | by Jeremiah Moss
3:55 P.M. From the East Village I take a roundabout way, across Houston Street, where the two artists known as Faile (Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller) are putting the finishing touches on their giant mural, a comic-booky collage that brings to mind the organic degradation of street advertising and art, layer upon layer, ripped and peeled. The city is like this in places, one stratum revealed beneath the next, except in the places that have been excavated down to bedrock to make the past disappear. I end up talking to one of the Patricks while the other Patrick is pasting a Chairman Mao to the wall. Patrick tells me how the images and text have all been pulled from comics, movie posters, and other ephemera. He says, “We consider ourselves scavengers” of pop culture. And then Chairman Mao needs direction. “Tear it a little more,” Patrick tells Patrick. “A little more. That’s right.”
4:05 P.M. Houston takes me to Eldridge then to Stanton, where I think to detour into the Fusion Arts Museum, one of those places I’ve been meaning to visit but never have, only it’s not Fusion Arts anymore. It’s a new gallery, something called Lambert Fine Arts. The once colorful gate of bicycle parts, propellers, and bombs has been painted solid gray. I go inside anyway and check out Terrenceo’s paintings on pizza boxes, portraits of people taking their own photos in mirrors with cell phones, our tepid new expression of despair. Downstairs, Allison Berkoy’s spooky dolls are muttering to each other with their talking video faces, none of them listening to what the others have to say. Read More »
November 14, 2011 | by Sadie Stein
4:00 A.M. I can’t sleep. Because I just moved from Brooklyn into Manhattan, my books aren’t unpacked, and so my reading options are limited. The only books I have handy are on decorating—although it’s usually a pretty theoretical study in my case. The pattern of the boards on the floor of this new apartment reminds me of floors I saw in Kraków when I visited there with my father, and I’ve decided rather grandly to do a sort of prewar Eastern European motif. (Again, this is probably theoretical. ) Wonder vaguely where one would find a tiled stove in New York.
I read a few chapters of the inimitable Dorothy Draper’s Decorating Is Fun!, which is filled with gems like “It is just as disastrous to have the wrong accessories in your room as it is to wear sport shoes with an evening dress,” as well as the somewhat less helpful “I don’t believe anything can do as much for a room as a glowing fire in an attractive fireplace. Men and dogs love an open fire—they show good sense. It is the heart of any room and should be kindled on the slightest provocation.” (That said, I’m guessing Alexa Chung or someone is wearing sports shoes with an evening dress as we speak, and probably causing a sensation. Imagine a world with rules and dicta. The mind boggles.)
5:30 A.M. Finally manage to drift off for a few hours, until a handyman unexpectedly knocks at the door at 7:45 to wash the windows. It occurs to me that this is just the sort of dubious ruse a murderer or thief might use to gain entrance to someone’s apartment; let him in anyway.
3:53 P.M. I get some sad family news. Internet is in and out here, but in a good moment, I find my favorite Barbara Pym quote: “The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things ... the trivial pleasure like cooking, one’s home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.”
4:45 P.M. My old boyfriend e-mails me about a recent fight he got into at a dinner party, over collective nouns. “I was quite put out, let me tell you,” he says. Read More »
June 16, 2011 | by Joe Ollmann
Recently, I went to Bar Pam Pam, a mysterious old-man bar in my neighborhood that I have often passed but never had the courage to enter. My friend Murray and I asked what was on tap, and the owner said, “Vieux Montreal” and stopped there. I liked that—it was like an old-time saloon. What kind of beer do you have? Just beer, stranger. This bar was wonderful, genuine, unmanufactured focus-group atmosphere, no loud music and a welcome refuge from hipsters and young people. The old-man bar, like many old men, is an institution that is dying out. It made me think of all of the other old-man bars that I know and love in Montreal. Come with me, I’ll show you …
Bar Pam Pam
I’ve already told you the appeal of this little gem, mere footsteps from my home! But a few notes from my visit there are worth the telling. A tipsy woman took out her guitar, randomly sang “Me and Bobby McGee” in heavily accented English, put the guitar back in its case, and continued drinking. No one else clapped or even seemed to notice this performance. Later, a heavy, bearded dude came in, and the bartender immediately brought a pitcher and glass to his table.
“Why you bring this? You never see me before,” said the bearded man.
“My friend, every night you come, this I know,” said the bartender, with a smile that was met by one from the bearded man. This was obviously their ritual.
June 15, 2011 | by Joe Ollmann
This is the second installment of Ollmann’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
Of late, everything in my life seems to be done in fifteen-minute increments, as if I am in my personal life digging up the powdered-wigged corpse of Andy Warhol’s too-oft-quoted chestnut, minus the fame.
I’ve become fat, so I run for fifteen minutes every day (pathetic, I know, but I will return to this). My only reading time is during my fifteen-minute commute each morning. I meet with my wife after a night of work, and we watch part of a movie, sometimes as little as fifteen minutes.
Fifteen minutes: EVERYWHERE!
June 14, 2011 | by Joe Ollmann
I live in a neighborhood in Montréal called Parc X. Now, I confess this sounds a lot more ghetto-y and gangsta than it actually is. It’s really a hard-working, largely immigrant neighborhood that is in imminent danger of being overrun by white hipsters.
We do literally go through a hole in a fence from our slum to take our son to his school in the neighboring wealthy Anglophone area, but the fact that he wears a fancy school uniform does slightly tarnish our street cred, I admit.
Montréal's ostensibly a French-speaking city, but the French language is rarely heard in my mostly Greek and Pakistani neighborhood. I am neither French, Greek, nor Pakistani and speak none of their languages with proficiency, so I’m perpetually an outcast, though I am, by nature, a bit of a Zelig, attempting and failing to ever fit in. Always the pale, white, cultureless bridesmaid.
It was Easter recently, which this year not only coincided with Greek Easter, or “Greece-ster,” as I sensitively and cleverly have named it, but also Passover. In the French-speaking world of Quebec, Passover is noted on French calendars as “Paque Juive,” or Jewish Easter (!), which my Jewish homeys find offensive based on the fact that Passover preceded Easter and therefore should not be relegated to Easter-spin-off status. Oh people, why can’t we all just get along?
May 26, 2011 | by Matthew Specktor
This is the second installment of Specktor’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
8:30 A.M. Breakfast, and a chunk of The Pale King.
11:40 A.M. I meet up with The Los Angeles Review of Books’ splendid poetry editor, Ms. Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Knowing her is even better than saying her name, which you could, if you wanted, skip rope to. We talk about Fairport Convention, Vietnam metaphors, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Joe Boyd, Frank Bidart, Richard Howard, and Led Zeppelin. (Always, Led Zeppelin!) We eat soup. I walk away feeling the way I always do after talking with Gaby, namely that I got the better half of the bargain.
3:20 P.M. Nicolas Jaar, and a nap. My draft of Zeroville is very nearly almost done, and I’ve gotten my licks in on a few more LARB essays. I feel semijustified in caving in to fever, and so, do.
8:15 P.M. I find myself standing in an intolerably humid Skylight Books, listening to an invisible Bret Easton Ellis—he’s somewhere up there, obstructed by the mob—read from Imperial Bedrooms. He then answers questions about The Hills, Glee, Twitter, screenwriting, loneliness. Just about everything except books. He’s charming, patient, funny, articulate, and reminds me how odd it can be when the reality of an author—or of anything—gets eclipsed by reputation. Lethem has a piece in his forthcoming Ecstasy of Influence in which he argues that notoriety is the only form of postwar American literary fame. He’s persuasive, dividing fame from regard among readers and suggesting that knife fights (Mailer), feuds (Vidal), and censorship (Nabokov, Ellis) are the royal road to visibility. Maybe. But this place is packed, largely with people half my age who are carrying thoroughly destroyed–looking Vintage editions of Ellis’s older books. Someone’s reading him, and that’s a good thing, regardless of what strains they’re locating in his work. A stray tweet I read later refers to “being here with other weirdos waiting to hear Bret Easton Ellis read.” I take that as proof positive that literature has not nearly outlived its use.