Thirty-nine years ago last July (that’s thirty-nine steps on your Fitbit), I arrived in New York City from London to spend a postgraduate semester at Columbia. On the first morning, I went into Tom’s Restaurant (later the Seinfeld place) on 112th and Broadway and was immediately overwhelmed by the multiple-choice menu. London, in those days, was not a place of gastronomic variety for breakfast. A waitress of generous proportion came over to my table, “Whaddya want?” she asked. I was speechless, then mumbly, then speechless gain. The waitress waited patiently then said, “Talk to me baby, I’ll listen to you.” This is how I began my American education. Read More
After we’d left the flea market, we walked across Central Park. I had, in the end, rejected all but the most alluring treasures: the 1970s Harlequin romances, a beloved Little Golden Book—Pantaloon—a sort of novelty all-purpose kit from 1957 embossed with the words Girl Friday containing aspirin, buttons, a shoe horn, a pen, tissues, Band-Aids, and giving off a distinct smell of decaying leatherette. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it. Read More
Lorraine O’Grady’s living Künstlerroman.
In 1982, the artist Lorraine O’Grady staged her first major performance piece in Central Park, “Rivers, First Draft.” In the park’s bucolic Loch section, the audience watched a black woman in a red dress walk down the ravine. Red is a sign for wanton women, and this one was in the company of wild-eyed dancers, barely clothed—all of them white. She was shy, lingering behind the dancers as they shimmied and shook down the hill. When she caught up and tried to engage them, they spurned her.
So the woman in red wandered over to a door. Several black male artists were gathered behind it. She knocked, and they, too, turned her away. While she hesitated, hoping to change their minds, the dancers returned and attacked her with Dionysian energy. Read More
Desire Lines turns a walk in the park into an emotional map.
In 1654, Madeleine de Scudéry produced a ten-volume philosophical novel called Clélie, about the coaction between temperament and free will. Clélie was a popular salon novel at the time, but it’s now best remembered for the Carte de tendre, often translated as “the map of love” or “the map of the country of tenderness”: a long description of a country that represents the landscape of human emotion, illustrated by a map in the first volume of the book. The country is divided by the “river of inclination,” and there are little hamlets, deserts, and mountains like “sincerity,” “assiduity,” and “respect.” “Passion” is a dangerous-looking rocky outcrop, beyond which is unknown territory. To get from one end to another, one must avoid the “Lake of Indifference,” and “Affection” has to be surmounted to arrive at deep spiritual love. The map is one of the premier examples of sentimental cartography, which has a niche spot in French literary history.
In March, the Public Art Fund of New York City installed Desire Lines, a new commissioned work by the French Italian artist Tatiana Trouvé, which mixes sentiment and cartography. Desire Lines is at the southeast end of Central Park, in the Doris C. Freedman Plaza, where it will sit for the summer. The structure comprises three steel racks, nearly twelve feet tall, that hold spools of rope in different colors; there are 212 spools in all, each with a length that corresponds to a specific path in the park. Trouvé mapped, named, and indexed every one of them, from the thoroughfares to the secluded, unnamed paths. From a distance, the installation resembles a giant’s sewing kit, or an electrician’s stock. Engravings on each spool suggest various acts of walking in the culture: “Woman Suffrage Parade, March 3, 1913” or “ ‘Walk on By,’ ” Dionne Warwick, 1964.” Visitors “can choose a path by name and then undertake the walk as it describes, tracing the march of history in collective memory while discovering Central Park anew.” Read More
There are certain places—mostly playgrounds—that post signs advising visitors that no unaccompanied adults will be admitted without a child escort. Sometimes, these are practical concerns: jungle gyms and ball pits are not made to bear a grownup’s weight. (This is to say nothing of creeps.) But maybe they are also meant to give kids a sense of specialness in a grown-up world.
There should be far more of these signs. In fact, they should be expanded to include “No unaccompanied adults on grounds of preserving their dignity” and “No unaccompanied adults on grounds of Baby Jane–style macabreness.” Signs for both these categories would bar adult entry to petting zoos; most merry-go-rounds, with special dispensation for the kind with brass rings; and any restaurants clearly intended primarily for little girls. (These prohibitions sort of apply to groups of wild teenagers who scare little children, but of course they know exactly what they’re doing and run the world.) It is not that I don’t understand a need for nostalgia and childlike wonder. But over the weekend—while I was accompanied by young children, may I add—I saw a young French woman texting as she rode the Central Park Carousel, so. Read More
Somewhere a Hadada quietly weeps.
It’s been a rough two weeks on the diamond for The Paris Review, culminating in an extra-inning loss to a venerable (cough) Harper’s side—a loss that had the ghost of George Plimpton clucking in disapproval. As the calendar flips to July and a once promising season slowly turns to shit, it has become apparent that we are simply not to be trusted. The talent is there, but it’s mercurial, slave to whim and whimsy. As a team we’ve adapted an identity that is generously enigmatic: although capable of lighting up any softball scoreboard in greater Manhattan, lately it seems that we are just trying to get our jerseys on.