Posts Tagged ‘cities’
March 16, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Ta-Nehisi Coates has offered a glimpse of what we can expect from his new series of Black Panther comics, and it involves, as all good stories do, a superhuman terrorist group called the People. “In my work for The Atlantic I have, for some time, been asking a particular question: Can a society part with, and triumph over, the very plunder that made it possible? In Black Panther there is a simpler question: Can a good man be a king, and would an advanced society tolerate a monarch? … The Black Panther I offer pulls from the archives of Marvel and the character’s own long history. But it also pulls from the very real history of society—from the precolonial era of Africa, the peasant rebellions that wracked Europe toward the end of the Middle Ages, the American Civil War, the Arab Spring, and the rise of ISIS … Chris Claremont’s The Uncanny X-Men wasn’t just about an ultracool band of rebels. That series sought to grapple with the role of minorities in society—both the inner power and the outward persecution that come with that status. And so it is, I hope, with Black Panther. The questions are what motivate the action. The questions, ultimately, are more necessary than the answers.”
- Take some time away from your busy day and think about the logistics of nineteenth-century feces disposal, won’t you? Adee Braun can help: “Night soil was the name euphemistically given to human waste because it was removed from privies under the cloak of darkness so that polite society would be spared from confronting its own feces as the men carted the crap away, leaving a trail of stench in their wake … Night soil collection was big business. Hundreds of men were employed in cities—mostly African-Americans and immigrants who were either independent entrepreneurs or employees of city contractors. The night men, with their ‘rude carts,’ were considered a nuisance at best. Their night work also left them vulnerable to hoodlums who sometimes stoned the men and occasionally shot their horses. At least the pay was decent, even if the work was not. The night soil men used rudimentary long-handled dippers or buckets to scoop the mephitic waste into barrels or tanks on a wagon.”
- Tim Parks continues his dissection of the politics and vagaries of professional translation, that most unsung of literary pursuits: “Does translation matter? Does the choice of translator matter? Some translators’ associations (in Germany for example) insist that a translator ought to be paid a royalty for the translation and share in the commercial success of the work, as if the individual translator had the same impact on the work as the author. This is nonsense. Umberto Eco was better translated by Geoffrey Brock and Richard Dixon than by William Weaver, but The Name of the Rose, which Weaver translated, was an infinitely better book than The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (Brock) or Numero Zero (Dixon). Why should the one translator grow rich and the others not? … To introduce royalties would be to encourage the finest translators to drop literary work altogether and concentrate on genre novels.”
- Speaking of unsung careers in the arts, I don’t spend enough time thinking about the production designers of the world, and so was grateful to learn about Ken Adam, whose set designs for Dr. Strangelove, Barry Lyndon, and Goldfinger, among others, changed the game. Adam died last week, at ninety-five: “Adam’s magnificent designs, vast and lucid and expressive but often with an undercurrent of chilling horror, transformed those films in which they were featured … He decided, he said, to ‘forget the old way of making sets—wood and paper and so on—and try to do it all for real. I had the chance to let myself go because there was nobody looking over my shoulder.’ ”
- While we’re reminiscing: Sunny Balzano, the proprietor of a bar called Sunny’s in Red Hook, Brooklyn, died last week. Tim Sultan, whose memoir Sunny’s Nights just came out, remembers his friend: “Instinctually, he was familiar with men’s inner lives, giving direction and guidance even to those he had only just met. Many came to him for this, and in his very genuine attentiveness and his gentle conversational manner he unfailingly gave it. The final destination was always this: arriving at a place where one valued oneself. Sunny had a great appreciation for each person’s significance and he reflected that worth back on us. One always seemed to feel better after a visit with Sunny.”
October 27, 2015 | by Andrew Holter
With the publication of Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York, in 1991, Luc Sante established himself as one of New York City’s most imaginative elegists. The book was a shrewd chronicle of Lower Manhattan abjection from the mid-nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries—but also a call for a more expansive sense of historical memory, one with room not just for the banking magnate and the besooted proletarian behind him but for the guy behind him, too, with the chewed-off ear and the shiv. Sante followed Low Life in 1992 with Evidence, a collection of startling and often sublime crime-scene photographs taken by the NYPD in the 1910s, a project in which Sante afforded his poor tenant-dwellers more dignity than many of them could claim in their abbreviated lives. Since then he’s contributed regularly to The New York Review of Books; written the liner notes of the Anthology of American Folk Music and translated Félix Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines; published an autobiography of sorts, The Factory of Facts; and released a collection of essays, Kill All Your Darlings.
His new book, The Other Paris, magnifies the crime, grime, and scrappy, world-reverberating insubordination of Parisians down through history. Sante’s Other Paris is the one that belongs to le Peuple and always has—to the prostitutes, the ragpickers, the laundresses, the pickpockets, the North Africans, Roma, and Jews, the pop singers and tattooed gang members (the apaches, many of whom “had a dotted line around their necks, to guide the blade of the guillotine”), the insurgents on the barricades and the Illegalist bomb throwers, the ones who got their heads cut off and the ones who physically did the cutting. Perhaps most of all, the Other Paris belongs to the flaneurs, the original dandies in the underworld, in whose tradition Sante has followed as a first-rate observer and reassembler of Paris, making this book the most recent contribution to the venerable body of literature that has sought to capture Paris the way it really was and is, from the vantage of the street rather than the street view.
Flaneurie is a huge part of The Other Paris—you call the flaneur the “exemplar of this book.” Since flaneurs have been the truest historians of Paris, did you find the act of walking at all important to your research? For as much consideration as you give to the social consequences of the built environment, it seems like a dérive or two might go a long way toward finding the essence of Paris from “the accumulated mulch of the city itself,” to borrow a phrase from Low Life.
When I wasn’t at the movies, I was walking. I walked all over the city, repeatedly—I kept journals of my walks, which are actually just lists of the sequences of streets. Even though the city isn’t as interesting as it once was—modern construction and commercial real-estate practices have wiped out so much of the old eccentricity—there are still hidden corners and ornery survivals, and of course the topography is such a determinant. New York City is more or less flat and what isn’t was mostly leveled long ago, so it’s missing that aspect of accommodation to hills and valleys and plateaux, not to mention the laying out of streets on a human scale long before urban planning scaled things to the demands of machines. Read More »
May 21, 2015 | by Lee Bob Black
In cities, trends come, go, and come again; causes rise to prominence, fall by the wayside, and emerge repackaged; neighborhoods flourish or fall out of favor. Condos, cupcake shops, and bike lanes become signifiers; shady buyouts and racist landlords fuel arguments about whether communities are being renewed or decimated.
The word gentrification is in the subtitle of DW Gibson’s most recent oral history, but the author has trouble with it: it’s too broad, he writes, to adequately capture a wide variety of experiences, contexts, and meanings. Several interviewees in his book also seem at odds with the word. One says gentrification doesn’t describe anything in the real world. Another says he doesn’t need to be able to describe it because he knows what it feels like.
To mark the release of The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century, I spoke with Gibson, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, about bringing the human touch to the page, viewing a book as one long panning shot in a film, and the importance of using all the tools at one’s disposal, including cute daughters.
How do you make gentrification something people want to read about?
Most of the books out there are academic or have an academic feel to them. I think the way you get people to care about gentrification is to write about human beings. My goal was to show the human fabric of gentrification. People relate to people, to stories. Read More »
April 22, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Earth: it’s a neat-looking place.
Agèd. Spherical. Cerulean-ish.
Problem is, there are more than seven billion people here, gumming up the planetary works with such “advances” as “buildings,” “indoor plumbing,” and “rust-proof tension-mounted shower caddies.” Earth is so crowded with human beings that many of them live and work within mere feet of one another. It is, on Earth Day, something of a buzzkill. Read More »
December 24, 2014 | by Edward McPherson
We’re out until January 5, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2014 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!
St. Louis’s unforgettable 1904 World’s Fair.
I hand the attendant a fifty-cent piece and watch him drop it into the automatic turnstile, itself a marvel. Behind me, the murmur of moneychangers, the swish of gored skirts tapering to white shirtwaists. Beyond that, the din of St. Louis. My sack suit rustles as I stride ahead. I’m crossing the threshold of an impossible city: a manicured wonderland of symmetrical lagoons winding through sculpted gardens studded with allegorical statues. In the distance loom the massive palaces of learning, their Beaux-Arts façades harkening back to Ancient Rome and heralding a future brighter than the hundred thousand incandescent lights that line them against the night. The words of Exposition President David R. Francis ring in my ears—Open ye gates! Swing wide ye portals! Enter herein ye sons of man, and behold the achievements of your race! Learn the lesson here taught and gather from it inspiration for still greater accomplishments!—and I step into the Fair.
* * *
St. Louis is a city of gates that do not normally swing wide. The urban private street, or “private place,” is believed to be a local invention, dating to the 1850s. Private places are owned by their residents, who typically build and maintain the road, median, sidewalks, curbs, street lighting, and—most crucially—gates. Some gates were utilitarian, imposing, and plain; others were small castles, complete with clock towers, fountains, statues, gaslights, and gatehouse apartments that caretakers (and, later, college students) lived in until the 1980s. Private places offered a refuge from the ever-booming city, a world apart. Some have been razed, their gates uprooted, the neighborhoods now troubled by crime; many still stand, pockets of wealth and privilege, with boards of trustees that oversee matters of law (historic preservation, landscaping) and etiquette (street parking, book clubs, Easter egg hunts).
Nearly two years ago, when my wife and I were moving to town and looking for an apartment, we were taken aback: everywhere, gates, gates, gates. Gates that lock and unlock according to byzantine schedules publicized only to residents (thus thwarting commuters and anyone else who might try to cut through the neighborhood). Gates that open by remote control. Rolling metal gates with yellow hazard signs. Gates built for carriages that now barely fit a car. Even in less-rarified neighborhoods—with weeds in the lawns and unwashed economy sedans on the street—at the end of the block might stand a pitiful sawhorse made of white PVC pipe. A symbol that speaks to the natives. Private Street: Not Thru. Private Street: No Public Parking. No thru traffic. Private neighborhood. No smoking beyond this gate. Private. No trespassing. Keep Out.
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June 2, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Envisioning the brick-and-mortar bookstores of tomorrow: “Wide steps double as seating and lead down to a bar and a stage, where a writer performs—‘authors will become more like rock stars’—or a ‘book wizard’ explains the craft of making books. The book you make might be one by the writer on stage, something you’ve written yourself, or any other text the robots conjure up.”
- “I think poetry has really rather connived at its own irrelevance and that shouldn’t happen, because it’s the most delightful thing … We have lost the sense that poetry sits halfway between prose and music—that you can’t expect to read it like a novel. We are quite used to downloading an album and listening to certain tracks … poetry needs to be consumed in that way.”
- On Tolkien’s 1926 translation of Beowulf, which was finally published last month: “The literary landscape has changed since then in a way that Tolkien would have neither expected nor accepted: he now towers in fame over Beowulf. Last year, Penguin repackaged its Michael Alexander translation as one of five ‘classic [stories] that inspired J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit.’ but far more people will read the book for Tolkien’s sake than for Beowulf’s.”
- “Though their obsolescence has been prophesied at various points, neighborhoods remain a vital—perhaps the most vital—way of thinking about the modern city.”
- A 1959 promotional comic touts the glories of atomic energy through Reddy Kilowatt, everyone’s favorite grinningly electric asexual mascot: “I’m a real, live wire and I never tire. Yes, sir—I’m a red-hot shot. I can cook your meals, turn the factory wheels, ’cause I’m Reddy Kilowatt.”