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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

Fresh Hell

August 22, 2014 | by

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Dorothy Parker

If you wish to celebrate Dorothy Parker’s birthday with a small gift to yourself, you have many options. An Etsy search of the writer’s name will give you letterpress prints and pillows and pins; a locket; earrings, several flasks; a bracelet; a range of portraits, including a cat in a cloche; a sampler; and a choice of two dolls. And the tote bags! Ah, the tote bags. Need I even mention the tote bags? I am not immune; yesterday, I treated myself to a Dorothy Parker cocktail, made with Dorothy Parker gin. At the Algonquin, no less. (There is also a certain charm to “what fresh hell” spelled out in Morse Code.)

Dorothy Parker’s Art of Fiction interview, from 1956, has always been among my favorites. She has no interest in glamorizing her reputation. She has scant regard for her much-vaunted wit. From the interview’s introduction: “Readers of this interview ... will find that Mrs. Parker had only contempt for the eager reception accorded her wit.” “Why, it got so bad,” she had said bitterly, “that they began to laugh before I opened my mouth.” I can’t think of an interview more honest, or more generous. She refuses to call herself a serious writer, saying:

There’s a hell of a distance between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words. I didn’t mind so much when they were good, but for a long time anything that was called a crack was attributed to me—and then they got the shaggy dogs.

And on the vaunted Round Table: “I wasn’t there very often—it cost too much. Others went. Kaufman was there. I guess he was sort of funny.”

Say what she will, no one can take away from the body of her quotables—or, for that matter, an easy cultural shorthand that reduces her to bons mots. But for my money, there’s no quote that sticks with you quite so much as the final lines of that interview:

It’s not the tragedies that kill us, it’s the messes. I can’t stand messes. I’m not being a smartcracker. You know I’m not when you meet me—don’t you, honey?

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Paranormal Activity

August 20, 2014 | by

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Fernand Lungren, Washington Square, 1897

James’s writings about New York disclose, more than anything, an anger, quite unlike any other anger in James, at what has been lost to him, what has been done, in the name of commerce and material progress, to a place he once knew. It is not an ordinary anger at the destruction of beauty and familiarity; it is much stranger and more complex than that, and it deserves a great deal of attention.

That’s from Colm Tóibín’s introduction to The New York Stories of Henry James. It’s a great primer on the writer’s hometown ambivalence—a quite explicable turn of events when one considers that any visit to the Village would have brought James face to face with the death of childhood, with constant overhaul, Mammon, and rampant sexuality on nearly every block. And with bad food, to boot. 

On a constitutional in Washington Square Park today, my thoughts turned to James—they generally do, when I see the intact row houses fronting the park. (Well, James and NYU.) The man titled a novella after it—even if, as a friend recently pointed out, Washington Square gives less sense of the neighborhood than of interiority. (He’s said to have modeled the Sloper residence on memories of his grandmother’s. And if you want to see that brought to life, take a tour of the Merchant’s House Museum, one of the small treasures of the city, listed on any compendium of NYC’s haunted spaces.) 

Perhaps my favorite of James’s New York stories is “The Jolly Corner.” Like The Turn of the Screw, it is a ghost story and more than that. It concerns a man returning to his empty childhood home, which is about to be subdivided into apartments. Read More »

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The Mystery of the Plaster Plimpton

August 11, 2014 | by

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Hailey Gates holding our plaster Plimpton, a donation from Duncan Sahner and Rodney Cook.

By the largesse of Duncan Sahner and Rodney Cook, The Paris Review has come to possess a handsome bust of our late founding editor, George Plimpton. Specifically, this is a plaster maquette—the sculptural equivalent of a draft or sketch—by George M. Kelly, a sculptor of some renown. When Sahner and Cook heard that Kelly was soon to be evicted from his studio in Astoria, they “put together a team of Monuments Men” to rescue some of his work. This maquette was among their bounty.

And yet so much of the story remains untold. For starters, how did Kelly and Plimpton know each other, and who prevailed on whom to have Plimpton sit as a subject? Furthermore, if our bust is only a preliminary model, then where’s the final version?

The Times offers tantalizing evidence of its existence. Back in 2003, on the occasion of Plimpton’s death, the paper reported that Elaine’s—the restaurant and New York City institution, shuttered in 2011 after more than forty-five years in business—had “a plaster bust of Mr. Plimpton … on a shelf in the back room.” There’s even a photo of him standing beneath it. Elaine Kaufman, the proprietor, told the Times,

A couple of years ago a guy named Kelly did a bust of George in brass … The guy wanted a lot of money, $35,000. I don’t have that kind of—BLEEP!—money. So we ended up with the plaster cast.

That cast remained on display until the restaurant closed. Photographs suggest that it’s not the same cast presently in our office. Ours has a visible seam just behind the Plimp’s ear; the model in Elaine’s is a more polished affair. And if there are already two of these plaster Georges, might not there be others, too?

If you or your loved ones have any clues as to the whereabouts of the bronze Plimpton, or of any further plaster Plimptons, or perhaps even of a marble or Plasticine Plimpton, please let us know. In the meantime, we’re delighted to show off our plaster Plimp, who is, as you can see, eminently photogenic:Read More »

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Poetry in Motion

August 4, 2014 | by

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The Brooklyn Bridge in 1892.

Yesterday, I decided to walk home across the Brooklyn Bridge. With this in mind, I had downloaded a fine recording of “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” before setting off, and planned to commune with Whitman, or whatever, as I marched, marveling at the ceaseless roll of existence and the beauty of the language and, if I felt like it, crying a little. There was absolutely no question in my mind that this was a fantastic idea.

FLOOD-TIDE below me! I watch you face to face;
Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I see you also face to face.

Which was all very well, except that I’d forgotten that in fine weather the pedestrian thruway is so crowded that it’s almost impassable. People like to stop and take pictures—of themselves, or with others, or by others—and you can hardly blame them for it. Not that there’s anything wrong with visiting the Brooklyn Bridge! On the contrary! It’s beautiful, it’s historic, it’s free, and walking the mile-plus span is good exercise! But it gets in the way of the idyll, a little. Undeterred, I put in my earbuds and started walking. Read More »

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Repent at Leisure

July 30, 2014 | by

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Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, Une noce chez le photographe, 1879.

My father is a great TV watcher, and he keeps me abreast of the state of American television. Recently, he urged me to watch the U.S. reboot of the British reality show Married at First Sight, which, as the title suggests, introduces two willing strangers at the altar and marries them, albeit with the input of shrinks, matchmakers, sexperts, and various other professionals.

“It’s fascinating,” my dad assured me.

“I don’t want to watch that,” I said. “To see people either that lonely or that desperate to be on TV would only make me sad.”

“There’s that, of course,” he conceded, “but when you think about it, that’s how your great-grandparents met. And I’ve often wished I could arrange marriages for you and Charlie.” I prudently decided to not interpret this as a dig at any of our romantic partners. I suppose he wasn’t wrong about the matchmakers, but it does seem that, with parties of identical upbringings and cultural mores—not to mention not much premium placed on modern marital happiness—the shtetl varietal had a somewhat easier time of it. Read More »

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Goodnight House?

July 29, 2014 | by

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121 Charles Street, in Greenwich Village.

The optimists among us may think we’re okay: the world will sort itself out, the climate will stabilize, young people will always read and dream and give us hope for the future. And yet, sometimes you see something so objectively depressing that it’s hard not to feel we’re doomed. Case in point: 121 Charles Street, in Manhattan, also known as Cobble Court.

The property, an eighteenth-century farmhouse, is noteworthy for its charm—it’s surrounded by a pretty yard on a picturesque Greenwich Village street. Peep through the fence and you can see the little white birdhouse made in the larger house’s image. Not original to the neighborhood, in 1967, it was moved from York Ave. and 71st Street to avoid demolition.

Horribly enough, it is imperiled again: a broker recently listed it as a “development site” for $20 million. Quoth they,

ERG Property Advisors is pleased to exclusively offer for sale a West Village development site located at 121 Charles Street on the corner of Charles and Greenwich. The property is directly situated in arguably the most desirable enclave in all of Manhattan, the West Village. The property’s corner location benefits from significant frontage along both Charles and Greenwich Street … creating tremendous street presence. The property consists of a 4,868 square foot corner lot in the Greenwich Village Historic District. The offering would allow a developer or user to execute a wide variety of potential visions, from boutique condominiums, apartments or a one-of-a-kind townhouse.

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