Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New York to Provence in three months

May 2010
Note from New York

So I don’t know where to start this time, or in this season. Yesterday a bomb didn’t go off – thanks be – in Times Square, which had been placed in an SUV, and the culprit was found in a loaded plane at JFK. But the nerves of New Yorkers are, understandably, even more on edge than usual.

On the other side of things, the music and art scenes flourish, and everyone seems to have already seen and heard everything, way before I get to it – but that’s New York for you. William Christie has just been here at Brooklyn Academy of Music, Pierre Boulez is about to come, Alan Gilbert is energetically making a place for himself at the Philharmonic, and the Metropolitan Opera continues  Rossini’s Armida with Renée Fleming, who else? I went last night, and found it super-long, if inventive in Mary Zimmerman’s staging, and loved the passage in Act III when Rinaldo rips off his long white robe and head wreath and discovers, in magnificent tones, that he is Rinaldo!

Highest on the conversation wire is Marina Abramovic’s presentation at the Museum of Modern Art, where she sits at a table for the entire time the museum is open and stares straight ahead. This includes staring straight ahead at anyone who wishes to sit across from her – many have tried this, some wearing exactly the kind of outfit she wears (a long red dress) and themselves staring straight ahead. “I see what it is like inside her mind,” said one of these volunteers. All that is on the second floor, while on the sixth floor, there is a retrospective of her work, including videos and a nude figure climbing up a wall, and the discussion about that particular exhibition has to do with one’s entrance into the room through two very naked people, generally one of each sex. Recently, there was an excited article in the New York Times about a visitor groping one of the doorkeepers: scandal. His permission to enter MOMA was removed for a year.

And there is Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century, arousing the interest of just about everyone again. Nothing to grope or grope with here – just the presence of the clearly great moment of perception…

At the Armory, Christian Boltanski has placed 30 tons of used clothing in heaps around, and a great  25 foor mound of them in the middle of the more than spacious floor from which a five-foot crane scoops up a claw now and then…Oh, and 3,000 cooke tins by the exit. USED cookie tins.  It seems to have to do with life and mostly death. Or that’s what I read.

Uptown, on the roof of the Met (where inside there are the startlingly detailed illustrations in the Hours of the Duke de Berry, oh, and a few other things ) is a bamboo creation  (neatly called BAMBU) that is constantly being added to: it seems very tall already, but will reach, with its constant additions, some height that seems so impossible that I shan’t even mention it. It is going, they say, to look like a giant wave.

At Barnard College, this last weekend, and at the Guggenheim Museum, there was a celebration of Arakawa and Madeline Gins, and their remarkable constructions for the mind and the body. They had begun with the Mechanism of Meaning years ago, which went through several editions, with complicated diagrams and texts designed to give the mind an exhaustive workout, then arriving, via other stages and mental constructions, at Reversible Destiny, a belief and practice of extending life through buildings which were/are designed to take such energy to be negotiated that …
Well, you will have to read about it, about them and the buildings, which are very beautiful indeed, in simple clear primary colors and shapes. My husband and I went to Tokyo to see a series of them, called Mitaka, but near to hand, in Southampton here on Long Island, is the Bioscleave house, equipped with the bumpy floors and super-minimal construction for which their buildings are known, celebrated, and discussed.

June 2010
Note from New York

“Play me, I’m Yours,” a two-week project, has just placed pianos in 60 parks and public spaces, inviting anyone to decorate them and play them: it kicked off with 1000 free performances throughout New York City. Nice.

The late spring was full of peculiar adventures musical and other. Principal among these was Ligeti’s opera Le Grand Macabre, based on the play by the more than peculiar Belgian, Michel de Ghelderode. Everything of his always struck me as over the top, creepy beyond belief, very twentieth-century baroque. But this took the cookie: impossible to describe and of course about death and noise and costuming and plays within plays and all of that. Avery Fisher Hall – big, big – was entirely filled each of the three nights it was presented, and we found seats at the very top, delightedly, and were on the edge of them for the evening. Subsequently, I can’t remember anything about it except that it was exciting. That kind of thing.

More excitemend: the Met has brought out ALL its Picassos, a celebration in itself. The 1903 painting of Arlequin au café,  with its background taken straight from a Van Gogh also owned by the Met, the Actor, the painting into which a visitor had fallen in January, now repaired, and a few others, were xrayed and the repaintings and retouchings shown. Among the thousands of visitors, groups would of course gather in front of his painting of Gertrude Stein (the one he said she would come to resemble, as indeed she did), which was the first Picasso given to the museum. The century’s greatest artist, she said, and the century’s greatest writer: how not? So she sits there, and rarely alone.

After the conversation/situation/performance of Tino Seghal’s This Progress at the Guggenheim (which has just purchased it, as we interpreters who had been part of it were notified, and of which there is deliberately no trace), it felt passing strange to have the next exhibition, about photography, called Ghostliness. Things with no trace, indeed. Except memories, like those of Marina Abramovic’s sitting for all those hours and days at MOMA with so many people lining up to sit across from her. All of which makes us wonder about traces and what we actually remember.

Probably exhibitions like the contrasting ones at the two Gagosian galleries in Chelsea, one on 21st street, and one on 24th street: you could scarcely imagine a more unlike pair than the late paintings of Monet (the water lilies and the Japanese bridge) on one hand and fifty still lifes of Roy Lichtenstein on the other. How brilliant those are, with the steam coming out of a coffee cup painted on one side, and sculpted on the other, with Cape Cod scenes of a lobster and a wave and a sailboat, and with a few lemons sitting happily on a saucer… Visitors to these works of bright generally walked around smiling – not the most usual expression on faces in the bustle of New York galleries or streets.

But Lichtenstein tends to awaken some kind of unexpectedness in the mind. I am thinking of Frederic Tuten’s short stories about to appear with Norton: Self-Portraits: Fictions,  with a Lichtenstein on the cover, and a story dedicated to him. Just as quirky, brilliant, and radiant with irony as the Lichtensteins themselves. It’s a kind of New York spirit, not unaware of the multiple tragedies all around – good grief (what an odd expression, how is grief good?) --but very much alive.

July 2010
Note from Provence

I am looking out into the field by my cabanon -- this 300 year old tiny stone house, with rosemary springing  up by its upstairs door, and a laid-stone terrace -- where a small wooden table and two chairs sit waiting for breakfast. To my left is a wall of darker stone, where our gardening tools and two pairs of gardening gloves await their turn too. It will take place tomorrow morning, as it has most mornings here, when we walk out into the field and liberate an oak tree or two, from the encroaching gui or climbing mistletoe that makes a valiant (and often successful) attempt to choke them. Today it was a thin, frail oak,   
surrounded by a hardy plant on its way  up and around; we felt triumphant, and trudged back, beneath the rapidly-increasing sun rays, through the remnants of vines (pulled up years ago, but longing to return).

Next, in our bravery and sunhats, out to pick the last cherries in another field, to which we had been invited. They were sparse now, and many were shriveled by the summer sun, but a few immensely red and immensely large circles remained among the bright green leaves. We gathered them until it felt like enough, and made our way back to the cabanon, for some cold water flavored with mint syrup. For lunch, we had some potato salad left from a picnic two nights ago, with local olive oil and dill, and that great salt from the Camargue in its little round container with the cork top. 

Then to swim in the "plan d'eau," a kind of manmade lake, greenish and surrounded by trees, popular, alas, in this season. Today, some teenaged French types called out to each other: "Elle est bonne! Je ne sais pas si c'est meilleure que la Riviera, mais, ah! profitez de l'eau!" And we did indeed profit from the warmish water, with the children of all ages and scantily-clad elders, all feeling joyful in spirit. 
Back for a cup of tea and a perusal of the newspaper, and now this evening over to our farming neighbors for supper, with their rapidfire Provencal gossip. 

Tomorrow we will drive 38 kilometers up the hill to Sault, home of the famous lavender fields, and have lunch overlooking them, returning to share a glass of white wine (Fondreche, 2005) with one set of our vigneron neighbors, whose domaine is just above ours on our hill. Later, other neighbors still will arrive, each labeled by the locals according to their region: on this hill there are the English, the Parisians, the new ones -- not yet assigned a region--, and us. I have lived my summers here for many years, and feel this is indeed my region. 

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