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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

For the 1 Train Dead

August 28, 2014 | by

Robert-Lowell

Robert Lowell at home.

New Yorkers like to affect jadedness in the face of celebrity; we yawn, we stare fixedly in the other direction, we scorn star-struck tourists  And yet today, I had a celeb sighting so exciting I reacted like a middle-schooler at a taping of Total Request Live.

I had just entered a pleasantly empty subway car, only to discover the cause of its emptiness—a broken AC—too late. I was cursing my luck and considering an illegal dash between cars when I saw him. There, across the aisle, and under a Poetry in Motion poster, was Robert Lowell. To the life: the patrician features, the distinctive nose, eyes that had known suffering and pain as well as realms of genius invisible to the normal run of mortals. He was not a man in the first blush of youth; this was “Day by Day”–era Lowell. He was wearing a rumpled linen jacket and tie. Of course he was.

All thoughts of changing cars having fled, I took a seat directly opposite and stared. There was no question about it: this was Robert Lowell. Maybe a ghost. At the very least a relative. He could certainly have made a good living as a Lowell impersonator, traveling the world and reciting confessional poetry with a Brahman inflection. Well, a living, anyway.

I waited for my chance. I didn’t want to strike too soon, but on the other hand I couldn’t live without knowing. Best-case scenario, he’d break into “Life Studies.”

I timed it carefully. When we were one stop away from my point of departure, I planted myself in front of him. “Excuse me, sir?” I said, my voice quavering. He looked up. His eyes were very, very sad. “Has anyone ever told you how much you look like Robert Lowell?”

For a horrible moment, the lack of comprehension on his face was such that I thought he might not speak English. But then he said, “Robert who?”

There were two French tourists watching the proceedings with interest. Maybe they didn’t realize that other cars were air-conditioned.

“Robert Lowell, the poet,” I said. “It’s a compliment. He was an excellent poet! And handsome! I mean, he had his problems”—I said this in case he should look up his biography and think I had been less than forthcoming—“but who doesn’t?”

“Oh,” he said. “Thanks, I guess.”

I turned my back and stared at the doors for what felt like an eternity. It must have been a hundred degrees in there. Frankly, I thought, if that guy wasn’t Robert Lowell, and either mentally ill or supernatural, it was really weird that he was sitting in this sweltering car. Frankly, it was irrational.

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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

Washington_Square,_New_York_1897

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

Brooklyn_Bridge_1892

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

Dagnan-Bouveret_Une_Noce_chez_le_photohraphe

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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