The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Chinatown’

The Existing State of Things, and Other News

November 11, 2015 | by

Joseph Severn, Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound, 1845.

  • The Bodleian Library has recovered a lost poem by Shelley—the ambitiously named “Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things,” written when he was just eighteen. It’s 172 lines of pure political invective, and its themes, as one professor said, “remain as relevant today as they were 200 years ago.” It’s true. Certain lines (e.g., “cold advisers of yet colder kings … who scheme, regardless of the poor man’s pang, / Who coolly sharpen misery’s sharpest fang, / Yourselves secure”) resonate quite well on this, the morning after the GOP debate.
  • We’ve all wondered, in our lives as readers, how our cohort could be so fantastically wrong about some author or another—why such fantastical lapses of taste are celebrated far and wide. And so it falls to Tim Parks to ask the question on everyone’s mind: How could you like that book? “I live under the constant impression that other people, other readers, are allowing themselves to be hoodwinked. They are falling for charms they shouldn’t fall for. Or imagining charms that aren’t there. They should be making it a little harder for their authors … What might really be worth addressing here is the whole issue of incomprehension: mutual and apparently insuperable incomprehension between well-meaning and intelligent people, all brought up in the same cultural tradition, more or less. It’s curious, for example, that the pious rhetoric gusting around literature always promotes the writing and reading habit as a powerful communication tool, an instrument for breaking down barriers, promoting understanding—and yet it is exactly over my reaction to books that I tend to discover how completely out of synch with others I am … Could this be the function, then, or at least one important function of fiction: to make us aware of our differences?”
  • Here, I brought you these rhetorical questions about the cloud, that most porous of metaphors for digital space: “How did we come to place our faith in a symbol that is so ephemeral—all vapor and crystal? … What kind of thinking does the cloud, so porous and diffuse, enable? Does our participation in the cloud require us to surrender a bit of our privacy? Can it help explain the rise of the meme and our increasingly lax attitude toward notions of authorship and origins, the way something on the Internet begins to seem ubiquitous and ambient, as if it had always just been there?”
  • Michael Bierut is responsible for a lot of the high-profile signage you see around New York—his new book How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (Every Once in a While) Change the World testifies to his reach as a designer and his expectations for design. His designs all emerge from his notebooks: “ ‘I get very protective about them, like children, pets, lucky charms and security blankets,’ he says. One spread shows sketches of the deconstructed Saks Fifth Avenue logo for the department store’s shopping bags from a decade ago. He remembers one of the designers in his firm screaming after blowing it up into fragments. Bierut ran over immediately to look, and compared it to a Franz Kline or a Barnett Newman piece. ‘I remember at that moment saying, Wait, this could be it, sixty-four squares—each one of them was like a beautiful abstract painting.’ ”
  • At the start of the twentieth century, Arnold Genthe, a German immigrant, took photographs of San Francisco’s Chinatown. They’re some of the only remaining photos of the neighborhood from that period; most were swallowed in the earthquake of 1906. “Genthe was fascinated by Chinatown and took hundreds of photographs of the area and its inhabitants. He used a small camera and sometimes captured his subjects covertly. He later cropped some of his images to remove western references.” “Some day the whole city will burn up,” a friend told him. “There’ll never be another Chinatown like this one, and you have its only picture record.”

From Sand and Cactus

May 14, 2015 | by

Raymond Chandler the environmentalist.


The wise man, as Biblical lore has it, built his house on the rock, his foolish compatriot on the sand—guidance that mankind has ignored for millennia. In the late nineteenth century, the pioneers, or developers, or “boosters” who founded and promoted Los Angeles as a new “instant city” were among those to lay substantial foundations in what was essentially sand. Not on a desert, exactly—that myth’s been debunked—but perilously close to one, and on the shore of an undrinkable ocean.

Today, it’s not an excess of water—as in the scriptures and children’s song—that threatens Southern California, but a scarcity of it. The state is considering implementing desalination centers. As has been remarked in Europe, the city defines itself against its medieval origins; American metropolises define themselves against the wilderness. In John Fante’s 1939 LA novel, Ask the Dust, his alter ego, Arturo Bandini, revels in his adopted home’s mastery of nature: “This great city, these mighty pavements and proud buildings, they were the voice of my America. From sand and cactus we Americans had carved an empire.” Read More »

An Incident on Canal Street

July 19, 2013 | by


In July of 2001—I was in college at the time, working as a part-time waitress and part-time fact-checker—I found myself on Canal Street on a sweltering afternoon. It had been a long and unglamorous summer, hot in the way everyone knows from New York summer movies, but not, I remember thinking, even remotely iconic, or at least not any frame into which I happened to wander.

I frequently wore a series of enormous house dresses I had gotten at a yard sale, and tried very hard to like certain classic albums by listening to them, intensely, on a loop. Somehow it seemed imperative, then, to fight violently for a spot on the lawn at Bryant Park, no matter what film was showing. I was too young to drink. I was acutely aware of being a total waste of time, and also found this interesting. It is hard to overstate my unsexiness. Two people I knew were involved with Shakespeare productions that were designed as thinly veiled allegories concerning the political situation. Everyone was wearing those mesh slippers, bedecked with sparkly flowers, which you could buy in Chinatown for a few dollars. At home, my dad was fighting with my teenage brother, who had a penchant for stealing the family car. “Your brother,” said my dad, “has a total disregard for the dictates of the social contract, as they apply to him. In this way, he is like Hitler. Well,” he amended, “Hitler and Edwin Booth.”

On that particular day, the street was packed with vendors and workers and tourists looking for bags (although it should be noted that this was prior to the real designer-knockoff bag boom, or indeed, the ensuing crackdown.) This was no country for old men, although obviously it was full of old men. I had detoured through Chinatown in order to get some of the slippers, and also some five-for-a-dollar dumplings, and in the process of acquiring them had learned to add sugar to the soy sauce and sriracha on offer (this is a tip I share with you now) and seen three rats, which one assumes, but is always nice to have verified, I suppose. Read More »


Street Scene

January 3, 2013 | by

Well into my adolescence, New York City began and ended with a single street. For a long time, it did not even seem important that I learn the name of the street; everyone simply called it the Street of the People of Tang. The Tang, of course, were the Chinese, and Americans, foreigners to the street, named it Chinatown.

Of course, strictly speaking, I was a foreigner too. Because my mother worked in a suburban Connecticut town, all colonnaded colonials and frosty-haired WASPs, and spoke halting English, we boarded the Metro-North only when desperation over the last can of aoki mushrooms made it imperative. Later, when I grew to speak better English than she, I became the navigator. “So when we take the downtown green line, where is it that we get off again?” my mother would ask, eyes squinting nervously over the teeming throngs we would soon join at the mouth of Grand Central. Canal, I answered, always the same answer. We get off at Canal Street.

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