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Posts Tagged ‘Flatiron’

On Homesickness

November 2, 2011 | by

'The Soldier's Dream of Home,' a Currier & Ives lithograph produced during the Civil War, was one sign of the great attention that soldiers' homesickness received. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

A few weeks ago I found myself accidentally enacting the drama of a book I was reading. The book was Homesickness: An American History, and I was reading it on the subway, somewhat embarrassed by the title, which, held up right in front of my face, was like a sign saying: Here in New York, I can’t cut it. I comforted myself with the idea that I was only a few stops from home, where I could read safe from potential pity. But when I got to my door, I discovered that I’d locked myself out.

I looked up at my windows. I wished I could use the bathroom, foreign bathrooms costing at least a coffee. But it struck me that I didn’t long to be in my apartment. My place, with its card table in the kitchen and mattress on the floor, is unsettled—I would feel as dislocated inside of it as out. I can’t imagine what feeling settled here would look like; the only settled place I’m familiar with is the home where I grew up.

How long does it take to cultivate the feeling of home? I’ve been in New York for three years, on the East Coast for eight, and I’ve never suffered from acute homesickness. But still, when I’m called to define “home,” I think of El Granada, a town of 5,436 that staked itself twenty-six miles south of San Francisco down the coast. I mean staked quite literally: between 1906 and 1909, Ocean Shore Railway, which was building tracks from Santa Cruz to San Francisco along what is now Highway 1, planted thousands of fast-growing, blue gum eucalyptuses with the hopes of flipping El Granada into a seaside resort for train-traveling San Franciscans. The railroad company also commissioned the eminent architect and city planner Daniel Burnham (famous for the Flatiron building) to plan the streets. They go in two directions, up the hills and around them, so that it looks from above as if a four-square-mile spider web has been draped over the thousands of trees. But the dream of El Granada was not to be. Two years later the railway company collapsed. The tracks were abandoned. Some speculators bought land, but the place never really caught on until computers did in the late eighties and nineties, and intrepid commuters from Silicon Valley bought BMWs and began building houses. Read More »

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‘Echo’ in Madison Square Park

September 29, 2011 | by

Jaume Plensa, Echo, 2011, white resin and marble dust. Installation view in Madison Square Park, New York. Photograph by James Ewing.

“A poem is never finished, it is abandoned,” said the sculptor Jaume Plensa, quoting Paul Valéry on a sunny September morning in New York City, as he watched Echo, his forty-four-foot sculpture of a female head, being dismantled piece by piece.

My husband Jonathan Wells and I are Flatiron residents. We had lived alongside Echo since she arrived in May and, for Jonathan, she had become an object of fascination and reverence. He had been working on a poem about her for months but found himself unable to conclude it. He had refamiliarized himself with the myth of Narcissus and Echo; he had learned all he could about Plensa and the nine-year-old neighbor in Barcelona who had inspired the piece, a child who had taken shape in the statue with the timelessness and serenity of a Buddha. On this, the statue’s last morning, Jonathan recognized the Catalan sculptor standing between the cranes and the crew.

“I always hoped my work would inspire other artists,” Plensa told my husband, as they discussed myth, marble dust, art collectors, and teaching schedules. “Please send me your poem.” After watching Echo come apart, Jonathan knew he had an ending. Here is what he sent to Plensa:

Echo

White as x ray bone she rises through
The trees in stone as if she were sublime,
As if she knew what this grace was
And she was only nine, framed
Between her errands and her games.
Her nymph’s body surges underground
Not knowing what this buried love
Is for.

Beneath her neighbors play Frisbee
On the grass and strangers take her
Photograph. The final sun pours
Into her sealed eyes and mouth as though
She were the saint of radiant stillness
Who says this marble flesh is a prison
Stone yet the mind flies with
The confetti of birds, soars into
The beliefs of summer.
Silence succumbs to air and the blossoms
Sail down, the clocktower’s fretted hands
Notched against her ribs.

Questions flood her blood
And darkness, flee and then she’s gone,
Taken from our vanquished arms but
She still speaks in the autumn leaves,
In the furrowed bark, in the singsong
Of the childrens’ swings.

Jonathan Wells’s collection, Train Dance, will be published by Four Way Books in October.

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A Week in Culture: Jonathan Lippincott, Designer, Part 2

January 13, 2011 | by

This is the second installment of Lippincott’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.


DAY FOUR

11:30 A.M. Start reading the manuscript of Amy Waldman’s The Submission, a novel we are publishing this summer, and get pulled right in. This is still the most exciting part of the job, even after all these years—being one of the first readers of something that is really good. The story takes place a couple of years after the September 11 attacks, and is about a committee chosen to select a memorial for ground zero. In the opening chapter the committee is having its final meeting, there is a lot of arguing back and forth, a decision is finally reached, the anonymous entry opened, and it turns out the artist is Muslim. Chaos ensues. Read through lunch, and then have to get on to other projects.

6:30 P.M. Opening for a show of new work by Sarah Brenneman at the Jeff Bailey Gallery. This is the third show of her paintings that I have seen, and it is interesting to see how an artist’s work evolves over time. The paintings are done in watercolor, sometimes also with pencil and gouache. I was always struck by her beautiful sense of color and pattern, and now elements of the paintings are cut out and collaged elements are added, making an even more animated image. A very strong show. Catch up with a few friends, and then head out to dinner.

7:45 P.M. Dinner with our friend Peter, whom we haven’t seen in quite a while. We have a great time catching up, talking about recent books and less recent movies. Duck Soup, Pennies from Heaven and Bay of Angels need to be added to the Netflix queue.

Today’s photos:

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