Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Dismissed Without Evidence

Martin Amis
But we mustn't go too far back, must we, we mustn't go too far back in anybody's life. Particularly when they're poor. Because if we do, if we go too far back--and this would be a journey made in a terrible bus, with terrible smells and terrible noises, with terrible waits and terrible jolts, a journey made in terrible weather for terrible reasons and for terrible purposes, in terrible cold or terrible heat, with terrible stops for terrible snacks, down terrible roads to a terrible room--then nobody is to blame for anything and nothing matters, and everything is allowed.

- from London Fields by Martin Amis
Last night I had the distinct pleasure of meeting and hearing one of my favorite writers, Martin Amis, as he read at the 92nd Y here in NYC. Amis read from his new novel House of Meetings, along with the American author Norman Rush, who read from a work in progress.

During a Q&A session, he and Rush spoke at length about writers' reaction to 9/11. In his most recent novel Mortals, Rush uses the term "Hellmouth" to describe the feeling we sometimes have these days that earth might just open up before us at any given time. He and Amis spoke about the visceral desire writers have had since 9/11 both to depict and not to depict terrorism and Hellmouth. Both agreed that that John Updike's recent novel The Terrorist failed (though perhaps by both, I mean Rush and James Wood, the host, since I can't remember for certain whether Amis was dismissive), and Amis suggested that adequate time needs to unfold so that such events can steep in a writer's unconscious, before he or she can write convincingly about it.

Some of Amis's recent books have been savaged by the critics (perhaps most infamously by Tibor Fischer), but the Times' Michiko Kakutani give this one a rave review. Some of the criticism of Amis is, I think, legit (Yellow Dog truly did seem like a Amis parodying Amis at times), but I think Amis also often angers people because he is what a true critic and satirist should be: incisive without (automatically) taking sides. And, if you'll allow me to lapse somewhat pathetically into the clichéd cry of the ardent and exasperated fan: Folks just don't get him; he's just too smart and too unflinching for many readers. He's not afraid of approaching sacred cows; neither is he afraid of tipping them.

To that end, Amis ended the Q&A with a quote from his friend Christopher Hitchens, which drew loud applause here in NYC, but would no doubt draw gasps from mosques and churches all around the world:
What can be asserted without evidence, can also be dismissed without evidence.
Amen, brother.

For further reading, some pieces by Amis on 9/11:

Amis's essay, Fear and loathing, written immedaitely after 9/11.

The Real Conspiracy Behind 9/11 - review of The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright

The Age of Horrorism - three-part essay on the fifth anniversary of 9/11

Deranging Consequences of 9/11 - review of Bob Woodward's State of Denial

"The Last Days of Muhammad Atta" - excerpt from a short story by Amis, which also appeared in the New Yorker - see the comments for some great examples of Amis hating.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Byrne, Baby, Byrne

David Byrne

Is it just me or is David Byrne not the epitome of aging gracefully? (Well, he is turning 55 this year.)

The NYT ran a great article on him this week in which he lamented the fact that other artists his age just aren't getting out and stimulating themselves artistically:
“He really keeps his finger on the pulse,” said Ms. Diaz-Tutaan, whom Mr. Byrne became interested in after hearing the CD her band, Apsci, recorded for the tiny progressive hip-hop label Quannum. “That’s really inspiring to me — that this guy who has been around for such a long time and has been one of my musical influences is keeping up with things on a more underground level. He’ll just ride his bike to a venue, go in, check out the band and ride home.”

Mr. Byrne doesn’t seem to think there’s anything particularly remarkable about it. “Sure, I go out a lot,” he said. “I’m in New York, and I’m a music fan. But sometimes I go out to these shows and I go ‘Where are my peers?,’ you know? Where are the musicians from my generation, or the generation after mine? Don’t they go out to hear music? Do they just stay home? Are they doing drugs? What’s going on?”

He laughed and shook his head. “Or maybe they’re just not interested anymore. They’re watching ‘Desperate Housewives.’”

Saturday, January 20, 2007


sleepwalkers - Taxis

Saw Doug Aitken's "sleepwalkers" at MoMA last night. His synchronized films follows the somewhat intertwining lives of five fictional New Yorkers portrayed by actors Donald Sutherland and Tilda Swinton, and musicians Chan Marshall (Cat Power), Ryan Donowho, and Seu Jorge. The best view was from the sculpture garden.

More: Photos on my Flickr site
Gothamist recap
New York Times review
New York magazine review

Monday, January 15, 2007


So I've been in New York City for over a year now, and I thought it time to detail some of my findings here in a manner which might prove helpful to visitors to and even citizens of this fine, bedraggled city. I present then my ABCs of NYC. Should the alphabet presently prove skimpy in parts, fear not gentle reader. I shall embellish it further upon future visitations.


Almondine - When I'm in DUMBO, I have to hit 85 Water Street for this bakery's delicious pastries, including my favorite - a chocolate-almond croissant - and a cappuccino. Also: huuuge chocolate macarons.

Cafe Angelique - head west on Bleecker to this lovely French cafe and enjoy a splendid chocolate almond croissant with a cappuccino, as well as other fine pastries and desserts.


BarBossa - try brunch at this funky yet refreshingly unpretentious NoLIta spot. The theme is Brazilian but the food varies: I love the pressed avocado sandwich and the mango chicken curry's great, too. Various cachaça and caipirinha drinks, as well. Much easier to get a seat here than Cafe Habana around the corner and there are far fewer naval-gazing hipsters.

The Breslin - Chef April Bloomfield is credited with bringing "nose to tail" cuisine back to NYC. Famous for their full-pig meal, but they have other creations like the most decadent grilled cheese you've ever tasted (cheese on the inside and outside, add an egg to it for brunch) and probably the city's best fries. Oh, and an amazing lamb burger. Lovely, rustic decor, too.

Brooklyn Museum - Target First Saturdays - free art, free movies, free music, booze!


Ceci-Cela - Fabulous patisserie in a tiny space on Spring Street in NoLIta. I'm addicted to their chocolate-almond croissants and usually stop by for a croissant and a cappuccino after getting my hair cut around the corner.

Cubana Cafe - not to be confused with the cool, but crowded Cafe Habana in NoLIta, try this colorful downstairs joint on Thompson in Soho. The atmosphere's more relaxed and you'll probably get a seat right away. The hangar steak quesadilla is delicious.


Eight Mile Creek - Aussie fare, adult beverages, NoLIta

Elephant & Castle - I always get the tasty Elephantburger, which is actually beef with a curried sour cream on the burger. Not to be confused with chain of the same name.


Fette Sau - This Williamsburg, Brooklyn restaurant (and former garage) features some of the best BBQ anywhere, not just NYC. Grab a metal tray, tell them by the pound how much brisket, pork belly, sausage, pulled pork, etc, you want, plus veggies (of the comfort food variety), then take it to a table and eat family style. They also specialize in quality NY beers and whiskey. Extremely casual, often long lines even to get in, but I LOVE this place.

Freemans - though it's not a secret restaurant, per se, Freeman's is hidden down the dark end of Freeman Alley. I'll have to try their food sometime. So far I haven't made it past their hot toddies, grandpa's coffee (grandpa likes a lil sumthin in his coffee), and steaming hot artichoke dip. Freeman's takes rustic to a new level: there are enough animal heads on the wall to qualify for a taxidermist's convention. I don't know why there's no apostrophe in their name, but that is not a typo. Oh, and don't forget the lumberjack bartender. I'm sure I'll try the entrees one of these days.


Le Gamin - crepes and king-size cappuccinos; multiple locations, 2 of which are walking distance from my hovel; both are terribly charming, though it's harder to get a seat at the East Village location


Keen's - where we had my bachelor party, historical (since 1885), and perhaps the best steakhouse in NYC. People rave about Peter Luger's in Brooklyn, but I think Keen's is miles ahead. The atmosphere is amazing, too: Keen's used to be a club, where gentlemen could smoke their wooden pipes. Now, there's a display in the entryway of pipes from famous people including Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth and loads of others. Go into the dining room, tho, and thousands of pipes are bundled together to line the entire ceiling. Incredibly old school. Very New York. Delicious steaks.


Ma Peche - David Chang of Momofuku's midtown restaurant with community seating

MUDspot - an East Village staple - great coffee and food - family run and it feels like it - famous for it orange vans delivering coffee to the masses around Astor Place (right between two Starbucks) and Union Square


Palacinka - Crepes! Coffee! Michael Stipe sightings! - Update: Criminally, Palacinka is now out of business.


Rapture Cafe - a clean well-lit place for coffee, free internet, books, gay/gay-friendly folks, in the renovated Korova bar locale, though you'd never recognize it - Sadly, closed!


Seventeen Bleecker - spare, laidback, surprisingly roomy coffee shop with free internet access and friendly staff - I'm there right now! Very inexpensive and a few steps away from where CBGBs used to be

Sunburnt Cow - delicious Aussie fare on Avenue C - Can you tell I've been dutifully frequenting the Aussie establishments?


Tuck Shop - dinkum Aussie pies in dah 'hood, sausage rolls, lamingtons and vanilla slices - friendly folks, open late. Update: They've now branched out with additional locations.


Union Square - some may think of Times Square or even Central Park as the heart of Manhattan, but, for me, it's clearly Union Square. Practically every subway line intersect there. So do New Yorkers of every ethnicity and socio-economic level. You'll see junkies, artists and models. (I saw TED prize winner photojournalist James Nachtwey strolling through Union Square late one night last year.) You can shop for fine clothes, crafts or produce. Eat at any one of a myriad of restaurants. Or just hang out in Union Square itself, watching the skaters, musicians or outdoor theater, or listening to the constant parade of passionate and/or crazy people preaching their sermons and conspiracy theories. And it's free. Just steer clear of the Scientologists.


Veselka - major EVil fave and for good reason - "Ukrainian soul food" and great people watching - 50 years plus on the corner of 2nd Ave and 9th - 'nuff said

Feel free to add your own suggestions in comments.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Shut Down Guantanamo

Still from The Road to Guantanamo

Via Amnesty International, send a message to the President to shut down Guantanamo.

Also, if you haven't seen it (or if you're wondering what all the huff about Guantanamo is about), check out Michael Winterbottom's excellent amalgam of documentary and film, The Road to Guantanamo. It's out on DVD now.


PR Abandoned Basin

Just as there's a web site for everything, there's also a Flickr group for everything: I give you Washhandbasin. My proud contribution above. And lots more of my photos over at Flickr.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Top 10 Movies of 2006

Quite late and in semi-intentional, but quite possibly fluid order (don’t ask me to commit! And if you have any complaints, read the subtitle on the blog, which has been there since day one):

10. The Queen - helps if you were raised in a Commonwealth country
9. Road to Guantanamo - strong offering from Michael Winterbottom -howe anyone could watch this and justify our handling of detainees boggles my mind. Oh yeah, no one watched it.
8. Little Miss Sunshine - simply irresistible
7. Volver - another wonderful film from Almodovar - is he capable of making a bad one?
6. Man Push Cart - excellent NY indie probably never coming to a theater near you
5. Deliver Us from Evil/Jesus Camp - two horrific and gripping documentaries about child abuse and, oh yeah, they're both about child abuse in religious circles.
4. L'Enfant - the Dardenne brothers offer another gripping, humanistic fable (see also Le Fils)
3. The Departed - just a whole lot of fun; and unlike some folks, I didn't even mind the ridiculous placement of the rat at the end of the film. Fit the flick's feel entirely.
2. Children of Men - see my review
1. The Aura - I might be one of the few people to include this in a top ten list, let alone at number one (could swap with Children of Men, though) - see my review

Honorable Mentions

Babel - writers act as gods when deciding the fates of their characters and Alejandro González Iñárritu makes for a bit of meanspirited God directing this one - I enjoy Thomas Hardy, for Pete's sake, yet I found the way the characters got repeatedly bludgeoned in this one rather disagreeable. Still, I'm tempted to slide it on up there into the top 10 because I find his filmwork so intoxicating.
Half Nelson - that Ryan Gosling sure can act
Little Children - disturbing and funny - great combination - consider moving into top 10
Miami Vice (confession: my Michael Mann weakness + Gong Li crush = multiple viewings)
Notes on a Scandal - Academy Award for Dame Judi
United 93 - see below
Update: Forgot about 13 (Tzameti), which came out here in 2006, but got a very small release. Excellent B&W film noir from Argentina. I'd even consider adding this to my top ten.

Haven't Seen Yet

The Good Shepherd, The Prestige, Pan's Labyrinth, Letter from Iwo Jima, Iraq in Fragments, Death of Mr. Lazarescu, The Proposition, Army of Shadows, Marie Antoinette, Venus, Dream Girls (and people think I see everything that comes out!) - Update: I've since seen The Good Shepherd and Pan's Labyrinth. Both of which were great, but I'll keep out of the top ten for now.


Borat – I laughed a lot, but I guess all the hype killed it for me.
Scanner Darkly – maybe just because I’m such a huge Phillip K. Dick fan, I hate it when people dick around with his work. That said, it did make me laugh, made some pretty good points and loved the fact that he had himself under surveillance – very meta, post-modern, etc.
World Trade Center – I actually thought WTC a pretty gutless film – it only focused in any depth on the lives and families of those officers who survived the WTC scenario Stone depicted. United 93 was a sharp, steel scalpel compared to Stone's flimsy plastic spork. Who’da thought I’d ever say that about Stone? I wasn’t looking for conspiracy theories. Just a real strong dose of reality.
Inside Man - I thoroughly enjoyed this one; just don't think it was that great; and all its twists could be seen an hour off. Hey, I enjoyed Casino Royale, too – the last couple of Bond movies looked like stinkers and I skipped ‘em.

And Honorable Mention for Best Video Perfomance

The comedic stylings of one Stephen Colbert at the National Press Club coupled with George W. Bush at his side. (Over 3 million views on Google Video alone.)

Flickr Widget

bighugelabs has this cool little Flickr widget among lots of other fun toys available for Flicker addicts.

stribs. Get yours at bighugelabs.com/flickr

Monday, January 08, 2007

Ron Mueck

Big Man by Ron Mueck

Great thing about living in New York? Free stuff. I went to the Target-sponsored First Night at the Brooklyn Museum last night and saw the Ron Mueck exhibit, which was absolutely astonishing. You could see every vein, crease, age spot, pimple, hair and mole in the bodies the Australian-born artist has created. These works remind me of Lucian Freud's paintings, set to life. The enormous Big Man, sitting in the corner looks like he could grow tired of your staring at any moment and rise to his feet to chase you out of the museum. Downstairs A Girl greets entrants, a newborn girl whose length is far greater than my own and whose head alone probably outweighs me. Nothing can prepare you for seeing those gigantic baby eyes peeking through heavy baby lids.

Elsewhere, the figures are much smaller. A tiny, but entirely realistic man seated in and swamped by a life-size rowboat. On the other side of the room, a similar-looking figure we learn is Mueck's father, depicted deceased, every facet of his small, thin graying body tenderly portrayed and utterly realistic. And I was surprised at how touching and thought-provoking the exhibit was. One piece depicts two tiny coffee-table size people spooning, both with their eyes open, perhaps unaware of the other's wakeful state, thinking their little private thoughts. I found it especially eerie and endearing, even saddening. If some critics disdain Mueck, I do think his work is imbued with a compelling sense of humanism. Or maybe I'm just reading that into it. If these creations are "just models," what would explain the complexity of emotion I felt when viewing them?

More: Wikipedia article on Ron Mueck

Sculpture article depicting Man in Boat and the development of Big Man.

Friday, January 05, 2007


If you haven't alreay, take a moment to sign Amnesty International's pledge on Internet freedom. Then check out some other ways you can defend freedom on the Web.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Maybe With a Bang and a Whimper

Children of Men

Not a review of Children of Men, the intermittently jaw-dropping and always engaging new movie from Alfonso Cuarón, but a few random thoughts.

First: Michael Caine. The ever lovable Michael Caine plays portrays the moral center of the film, a laid-back dippy hippy type whose appropriately absurdist response to the evils around him is "pull my finger." A line that actually starts out as a joke in the movie later morphs into an astonishing middle finger leveled at the forces of darkness in the world. I won't say how in case you haven't seen the movie, but it's a riveting show of defiance.

On that note, it's interesting to note that though a few folks have claimed Children of Men bears a purely liberal bent, it depicts nasty types operating at both ends of the politcal spectrum. If fact, the movie depicts Theo (Clive Owen's character) as avowedly apolitical, to the point of emphasizing that he hooked up with Julianne Moore's character in their youth for more carnal than constructive means. It's clear that he's prompted to assert a political opinion - prompted to act and not just to grouse and complain - but it's also eminently clear that he's on the run from both sides.

Some other wonderful details: Theo's attire. He spends the first half of the movie with his shirt exactly half untucked, then escapes in muddy socks and later ends up running through a battlefield in ill-fitting flips-flops. Not to forget the fading London 2012 sweatshirt he's wearing by that point, too. For such a morbid flick, it includes a surprising amount of physical humor.

I also loved the little touches of advanced but realistic technology littered though all the rubble and decay.

Children of Men is that rare movie that has only grown in my estimation after I've seen it and allowed it to sink in.

Seven years after the year 2000, the year many people actually feared might be the fulfillment of the End Times, and we're still speaking of the apocalypse. However, perhaps for better reasons now.

Reminds me, I really gotta read Cormac McCarthy's new one, The Road, too.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The New Year

So this is the new year
And I don't feel any different
The clanking of crystal
Explosions off in the distance

So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
For self assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions

- from "The New Year" by Death Cab for Cutie
So I'm a day late, a dollar short. What's new?