The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Together Young

October 21, 2016 | by

Revisited is a series in which writers look back on a work of art they first encountered long ago. Here, Jen George revisits Balthus’s painting Thérèse Dreaming.

Balthus, Thérèse Dreaming, 1938, oil on canvas, 59 x 51''.

Balthus, Thérèse Dreaming, 1938, oil on canvas, 59" x 51''.

In Balthus’s painting Thérèse Dreaming, a young girl sits, face turned to profile, arms up, elbows out, hands rested on her head, legs a little open, underwear visible—a sort of clothed, daydreaming, preteen odalisque. She is at home in her youth. She has the countenance of someone who knows other things are coming, eventually. Maybe she knows what, though she probably doesn’t. Not like she needs to—experience comes from being alone in the world, and with time. When asked about the provocative poses of preadolescent girls in his work, Balthus said, “It is how they (young girls) sit.”

When I first saw Thérèse Dreaming, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I stopped to sit. Maybe I’d been tired. I had been traveling cross-country with a counterfeit sixty-day Greyhound Ameripass—it allowed for unlimited bus travel within the U.S—and I had been smoking heavily and maybe not sleeping at all. I couldn’t stay all day in the Brooklyn apartment where I’d been sleeping, so most days I went to the Met, looking at art, spacing out, reading, sometimes staring at blank walls. It was inviting, the room and the painting. Thérèse’s skirt was like mine. My hair was longer. I liked her shoes. I liked that she was both in this room and not; she was dreaming, but I couldn’t see where she’d gone. Read More »

Ghost Stories

October 20, 2016 | by

Seeking out spirits in one of New York’s spookiest bars.

Photo: Alex Strada.

Photo: Alex Strada.

You’d think it’d be relatively easy to pin down a ghost in this town, with all of its historic buildings and unsettled scores. Most of the haunts frequented by the city’s cognoscenti are said to have an apparition or two knocking around, if you believe in that sort of thing. There’s the shadowy figure that paces the shore of Rockaway Beach. A young girl’s screams are sometimes heard coming from within McCarren Pool. And from the stories told about the Brooklyn Bridge, you’d think its walkway would be incandescent with floating orbs and strange lights.

After hearing that a glamorous specter often manifests and smokes sullenly in a corner of the women’s restroom at the Astor Room in Queens, I drank far too much wine and drifted in and out of the bathroom stalls a few weekends ago, but to no avail. And returning home in the early hours that morning, I thought of the original owner of my apartment building, who hanged himself from the front-door frame in 1890. He, too, has yet to materialize.

So I stopped by the perennially spooky KGB Bar in the East Village after work one night last week to see if Dan Christian, the longtime bar manager, might act as my spirit guide. I’d always heard that the bar was very haunted. Read More »

The Seedy Splendors of the Love Motel, and Other News

September 29, 2016 | by

Capri, from Jur Oster and Vera van de Sandt’s Love Land Stop Time. Image via Hyperallergic.

  • Herman Melville ended his life as a failure, with no inkling of the posthumous glories to come. It sounds so miserable when you put it that way, doesn’t it? And in many ways it was. But his final years had small pleasures of their own. Mark Beauregard writes, “Having failed commercially as a novelist, he had spent the last twenty-five years of his life out of the public eye, and he had written poetry nearly every day. Mostly, his verse was tortured and cramped, and he often drew his themes from unlikely sources: ancient Greece and Rome, the Holy Land, myths, gods, and temple architecture … Six days a week, he walked west from his apartment at 104 East Twenty-Sixth Street, across lower Manhattan, to the docks along the North River (as the Hudson was then known). His job was to check ships’ cargoes against their bills of lading and write reports, for which he earned four dollars a day (a salary that never changed). He walked back home in the evening, an unwavering routine. After dinner, he wrote poems late into the night.”

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Black Pearls Before Swine

September 22, 2016 | by

Florence Foster Jenkins is remembered as a failed opera singer. What can we learn by listening to her today?

Florence Foster Jenkins.

When Florence Foster Jenkins made her self-financed public debut as a singer—in October 1944, when she was seventy-six—she sang “Clavelitos,” crying “Olé!” and flinging carnations at the audience in Carnegie Hall. For her encore, she had the carnations collected—and then pelted the crowd again. “Olé!” they roared back. Her friends cheered, hoping to drown out the screams of hilarity and derision.

Born in 1868 to a wealthy family in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Jenkins had been a talented child pianist. She eloped with, then separated from, a man from whom she contracted syphilis, transforming herself into a working woman who supported herself with piano lessons; an heiress; and a socialite, arts patron, and founder of the musical Verdi Club. By 1944, she may or may not have known that her invitation-only recitals and vanity recordings of operatic arias had attracted a cult following. “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing,” Jenkins famously (maybe apocryphally) said.

But soon after reading the New York Post’s damning assessment of her Carnegie Hall debut (“she can sing anything but notes”), Jenkins suffered a heart attack and, within weeks, died. Today, her notoriety endures in five plays and three films, including a new Meryl Streep movie, and in a tradition of private entertainments reminiscent of Jenkins’s own soirees: at midcentury critic and photographer Carl van Vechten’s parties, “Often the evenings were spent innocently, writhing on the floor in laughter at Florence Foster Jenkins.” Streep first heard her at a theater students’ gathering. Even I heard first Jenkins’s “Queen of the Night” over digestifs at a New York dinner party. Read More »

Don’t Be a Jerk (Unless You Really Can’t Help It), and Other News

September 16, 2016 | by

A still from PBS’s Blank on Blank.

  • Before YouTube, people were convinced that all poets were boring, lifeless people who made little ink marks on pages—very sparingly, at that. Fortunately, there’s online video, and there’s never been a better time to witness poets at their mediagenic best. Austin Allen writes, “However scruffy by academic standards, online video libraries have dredged some remarkable treasures from obscurity. Even as they change the way new poets present their work, they’re reshaping our relationship to the history of the craft. ‘Read at random,’ Randall Jarrell advised, and now poetry lovers can view at random too, free-associating our way through the most precious archival footage. It’s a new mode of research, a conjuring of spirits to our private theaters, where at a moment’s notice we can evaluate—or just savor—records that scholars a generation ago would have killed for … What videos give poetry fans above all are performances: windows onto authors’ conceptions of pieces we’ve carried in our own heads; cadences we never detected on the page; obscure material, curiosities, ‘extras.’ ”
  • Honest question: Are you a jerk? No, silly, not a soda jerk—a jerk jerk! An asswipe! You probably think you’re not—that’s so like you—but maybe, giving you the benefit of the doubt, you’ve never had a reliable, fail-safe way to measure your own jerk quotient. Eric Schwitzgebel is here to help, with science: “The first step to the solution is to nail down more clearly what it means to be a jerk. I submit that jerkitude should be accepted as a category worthy of scientific study in its own right. The word jerk is apt and useful. It captures a very real phenomenon that no other concept in psychology quite does. Jerks are people who culpably fail to appreciate the perspectives of the people around them, treating others as tools to be manipulated or fools to be dealt with, rather than as moral and epistemic peers. To be a jerk is to be ignorant in a certain way—ignorant of the value of others, ignorant of the merit of their ideas and plans, dismissive of their desires and beliefs, unforgiving of their perceived inferiority. The nugget of folk wisdom in calling certain people jerks is to highlight this particular species of deficiency.” 

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Dating History

September 1, 2016 | by

How a book about Chinatown made me remember my first New York date.

Mott Street at night, via Wikimedia Commons.

Mott Street at night. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve spent much of the summer totally captivated by Tong Wars, Scott Seligman’s comprehensive account of Manhattan’s Chinatown at the turn of the twentieth century. The book narrates the half century of history that followed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which made it illegal for Chinese, known at the time as “Celestials,” to immigrate and become naturalized American citizens. Those who traveled to New York from the American West (the New York Herald described them as an “army of almond-eyed exiles”) often found jobs as laundry workers and, according to Seligman, not a few of them spent their evenings gambling illegally in low-lit basements or nursing serious opium addictions.

In Tammany Hall–era Manhattan, Chinatown covered the area between Mott Street, Pell Street, and the Bowery. The neighborhood was the site of violent battles between the Hip Sings and the On Leongs, gangs that fought each other using everything from hatchets to bombs. Doyers Street, the dramatic alley off Pell Street, saw so much violence that it became known as the Bloody Angle. (“More people have died violently at Bloody Angle,” the Times reported in 1994, “than at any other intersection in America.”) Read More »