Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Champion sandwich/Celebrity Sighting #3/What I Listen To

The prospect of an unlimited toppings bar at a falafel joint filled me equally with anticipation and apprehension, sensations heightened--again, in equal measures--by Christy's delighted description of Maoz Vegetarian's Madrid outpost, where (she says) the town crusties expend the coins they've spanged on a falafel sandwich. Using their crusty eating-tools, they deliberately scoop out the falafel innards, refill their preserved pita bread with toppings, consume, and repeat, for the rest of the day.

I have now eaten at the NYC Maoz twice; both times the toppings seemed so appealing that I just got a pita filled with hummus rather than a legit falafel, which seemed both excessive tummy-wise and further, would clearly leave insufficient room for cramming in tiny bits of everything. Here's how it works: you get your pita with hummus and a bit of salad in a weird cardboard pita-sandwich-holder, and then you can add as many toppings from the ten or so at the little bar, so you get a few slices of vinegary cucumber, a couple beet pickles, some carrot salad, a piece of fried cauliflower, several varieties of harissa, etc. This sandwich is the closest thing to being a snack that a sandwich might ever be: it's like being at the best kind of party, where there are chips and dip AND carrots and hummus AND peanuts AND cookies and you have a little nibble of each. Or better: it removes the terrible necessity of choice one feels when ordering food elsewhere, knowing that you must commit to a singular food item when really, all you want is a forkful of six. Everything tastes fresh and not horrifically unhealthy; the pita is thick and fluffy and the hummus flavorful and not too tahini-y. While my Union Square falafel allegiance remains with Rainbow Falafel--and I remain uncertain about the ok-ness of a falafel "chain"--I declare the Maoz hummus pita a Champion Sandwich.

As I type this, I remember that I have Celebrity-Sighted Troy Dyer before; last time he wore sweatpants and was in Union Square, while yesterday, strolling down 13th St. he sported a red tshirt with what I believe was a Native American's head, so whatever that.
Ben--half-jokingly, I think--inquired "what DO you listen to now?!" on our way home from the greatest baseball game I've ever attended (a run was BALKED in, guys, BALKED!)and then double-checked if I still like the Gun Club record he really wants me to stop liking. The answer's yes to the latter and to the former, music that makes me tip backwards on my computer chair and watch the warm breeze in my curtains and think about the delights of doing nothing when it's hot out, and the slight melancholy that the nicest weather brings:

This kid has a really great post about this album, to which I have little to add, besides that this might be the only record that uses pan-pipes without annoying, and that it takes the affectations of Paul Simon's singing voice to imbue the most fluffy things with a sort of sadness and the heaviest notions with a vibe of "ah well, so it goes."

I bought this record because of King Sunny Ade's gratuitous appearance in the most underrated Robert Altman movie, the undeniably great O.C. and Stiggs. I know very little about Afro-pop, but I love this album, less dance music than a soundtrack for staring into space while tapping your foot or nodding your head as a steady, not-too-hard goes on while dub parts, pedal steel, I think maybe even a flamenco-y guitar, and call-and-response type vocals wend their way in and out

Monday, May 28, 2007


Happy Memorial Day! In remembrance of our nation's war-dead, LGI may be doing some or all of the following: picnicking, helping snaxblog buddy IKIW emigrate to Brooklyn, seeing some Werner Herzog picks at Film Forum, cleaning my room, and having that Sleater-Kinney song "Jumpers" stuck firmly in my head [DAMMIT]. Part of the second-from-last effort involves looking up words I've written on receipts and envelopes on the feeble free reference resources of the internet, before the little pieces of paper get too crumply to educate. And honestly, I couldn't think of a better place to record them than my blog. What does that mean?!

pulsion- A swelling or pushing outward.
atopia-a society which does not have territorial borders.(?)
ludic-playful in an aimless way.
tmesis-the interpolation of one or more words between the parts of a compound word, as "be thou ware" for beware.
erethism-an unusual or excessive degree of irritability or stimulation in an organ or tissue.
syncope-1. Grammar. the contraction of a word by omitting one or more sounds from the middle, as in the reduction of never to ne'er. 2.Pathology. brief loss of consciousness associated with transient cerebral anemia, as in heart block, sudden lowering of the blood pressure, etc.; fainting.
atabrine-a drug (trade name Atabrine) used to treat certain worm infestations and once used to treat malaria [syn: quinacrine]
Canute-king of England, Denmark and Norway, celebrated for "trying to hold back the tide," commanding the waves of the sea to retreat as a reprimand of his courtiers
Coueism-The application of French psychologist Emile Coue's familiar conscious autosuggestion, "Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better" (Tous les jours à tous points de vue je vais de mieux en mieux).
laterite-1. a reddish ferruginous soil formed in tropical regions by the decomposition of the underlying rocks.
oleograph-n. A chromolithograph printed with oil paint on canvas in imitation of an oil painting.
nugatory-1. of no real value; trifling; worthless. 2. of no force or effect; ineffective; futile; vain. 3. not valid.
friable-easily crumbled or reduced to powder; crumbly: friable rock.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Heroes, #1

It is one thing to make great sweeping statements about the human condition, and another to insist that in order to lay a foundation for such a claim, you must traipse for miles through the rainforest with a team of locals and oxen and a little grey monkey named Lucinda clinging tenaciously to your left boot--and once you've found the most bare, basic, untouched specimen of humanity you can find, realizing that it's sort of just people like anywhere else, except you really, really don't speak their language. It took me a few years to finish Tristes Tropiques, in no small part because every time I put it down I wanted to start again from the beginning, the sun setting at sea, the coastline of Brazil appearing slowly in the distance.* Between this book and the series of Herzog documentaries at Film Forum, I feel a little like a jug-eared boy-nerd from the '50s, poring over accounts of Great Adventurous Khaki-Clad Men who strive to find the heart and origins of man (and no shortage of feathered headresses) in the darkest jungle, daydreaming about someday striking out there for myself. Especially given Levi-Strauss's poetic melancholy about the loss and decline of the unspoiled places and the ultimate futility of his quest, it is a romance that's easy to find yourself sucked into.

A key aspect of both this book and Herzog's documentaries' greatness lies in their ability to mix philosophical or anthropological or metaphysical insight with adeptly pinpointed disarming instants (aforementioned Lucinda, querulous fellow-travelers in L-S, Herzog cajoling an old Bayreuth fire inspector into singing along to a (live) Lohengrin aria). I find that it's these parts, as much as the sight of the rainforest canopy from a balloon or Mohenjo-Daro might seem appealling, that fill me with a gentle, entirely dreamy sort of yearning for faraway lands.

*I think I sounded STUPID trying to explain this to someone the other day, but also, the layout of the Penguin Classics edition of this book is bizarrely prohibitive: it's a long work, and the pages are enormous with really squashed-together type that, combined with L-S's elegant yet oft rainforest-dense prose, makes reading a single page take as long as about 3 normal pages. IT TOOK SO LONG!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Celebrity Sighting #2

My thoughts on Joan Didion's writing inevitably return to the remembered row of white paperbacks that sat on the top shelf of my mom's bookcase throughout my childhood, which I thought had intriguing titles. I asked her to lend them to me once, and again, until finally she deemed me grown up enough to understand them. I wasn't and maybe, to an extent, I'm still not, but that's not the point, which is that when I saw a tiny-tiny gaunt woman in rust-tinted glasses and a drab suit perched on a bench outside a pre-graduation luncheon I was doing sound for, I smiled at her and almost waved, as though she were an old family friend or a former teacher. Then I realized oh, this familiar face belongs to my hero, Joan Didion, who's sitting on a bench outside the James Room, where she will shake hands with some trustees and privileged graduates and eat some grilled salmon. I did not walk up and shake her hand and tell her oh hey I'm a fan; I have read too much of her autobiography. I thought first, that I imagine I know her too well to gasp out some banalities, and second, that I could almost predict the impeccable sentence she might--if she wanted--construct about me.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Swimmer/The Summer

Perhaps watching a movie that uses the summer as a metaphor for the transiency of pleasure and the inevitability of disillusionment is not the best way to kick off summer fun 2k7. But ever since I saw aforementioned Play It As It Lays, also directed by Frank Perry and also a misfit-who's-losing it-too-publicly-vs.-tightly-knit/homogenous/wealthy social circle-type story, I've been itching to see it. Also, while I haven't read any John Cheever in a while, I was a big fan in high school (side note: the cover of that volume of his collected stories deserves some kind of medal for iconicity), and seeing how a filmmaker spins a movie out of a short story (let's see, The Killers, Short Cuts, Rashomon, kinda-sorta the Hammer Poe movies, also-kinda Jesus' Son, what else?) holds some interest.

As far as I recall the story, the movie follows it closely: a man (a well-preserved if suitably wrinkly Burt Lancaster) appears at his neighbor's pool in a swimsuit and realizes that he can "swim" home by traversing every backyard pool in his ritzy Connecticut suburb. A sort of Rip van Winkley time-shift occurs, though; as he swims, unbeknownst to him, years pass and the season moves from summer to fall and his neighbors tell him (to his increasing confusion) about the unravelling of his life. The movie displays the different moments of the story as these bizarre, stagey tableaux as Lancaster walks into various people's backyards to interrupt their lives and afternoons. Possibly jokey tres-late-'60s montages of people jumping over steeplechases and baked orangey colors, along with Lancaster's acting--stylized or marginally competent? In one amazing scene, a former mistress in a fantastic bathing suit tells him she was faking it the whole time, and he enunciates, shaking his fists at the sky: "YOU.LOVED.MEEEEE!!"--make this movie a tough nut to crack: it's either hyper-obvious or aestheticized to attain peculiarly deep level.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

let's recommend me a book!

A fact about LGI not evident to all but university chums: I read all things except philosophy and "theory" at a terrific pace. Most novels, regardless of length, take me under a week to read. I also live in a very remote locale, so when I don't spend my subway rides staring into space, listening to the Kids, and daydreaming about cheap shoes or Klute-era Donald Sutherland or grocery shopping or whatever it is I think about, I go through books real fast. I pretty much only do read novels, though.
Thus, although I know about a number of things (9 different ways to cook lentils, how to file a FOIA request), I know surprisingly little about The World. I would like to use my fantastic reading ability to stopper this gully of knowledge. Please recommend me history books!
Here's what I have a pretty great awareness of: American history, especially the Civil War, the history of "westward expansion," and the 1920s and 30s; Japan, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries; India (ditto); Israel; and the European theater of the Second World War.
I would like to learn about other parts and non-honky peoples of the earth. G. has recommended the new Hamid Dabashi book to me w. tears in her eyes, so I may start there. Mind, I am not looking for brutally scholarly endeavors (like that Robin Blackburn book about the slave trade, which I was supposed to tackle for a reading group, merciful heavens shit was dense). I also have little interest in military history and I really think I know enough about Europe to serve my present purposes.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

some mediocre movies

To be fair, Night Walker, which I saw because my pal misread the BAM skedj, kept me consistently amused for its 86 minute running time, in no small part thanks to the woman behind me whose chatter the phrase "running commentary" barely does justice ("Is she walking into the room? Oh my gosh, he might be there, scary! OH is he not dead?" etc). It also has a really high-concept-hilarious scene, which I have now attempted and failed to describe twice, so tantilize yourself by imagining some combination of a mature Barbra Stanwyck, a flaming skewer of meat and veg, a solicitous would-be psychologizer, and a maitre d'. To be truly fair, this movie, which fluctuates from moments of genuine suspense (genius sound-editing, A+ exploitation of wax figures and blind people) to instants of undeniable ineptitude (too many to list), is straight-up IGNORANT of everything from cinematic convention to uh, how humans think, so I guess I ought to use this particular space to appreciate it and its auteur, William Castle (pioneer of gimmick horror) wholeheartedly.

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold d. Martin Ritt, showed at Film Forum tonight, and this noise is, let me tell you, DELIBERATELY PACED. I have little else to add--it's fine, ultimately plodding rather than thought-provoking due to its even-handedness, although I do want to work in the library where Claire Bloom's mod-Commie character works in the darlingest little lace-trimmed dresses, where every book's about apparitions or lycanthropy.

Let's be posi, though: great things include springtime, maintaining the venerable LGI tradition of the Black Sabbath room at house parties, hummus, roomie/bro Trevor's new blog, Dead Moon, and X-Under the Big Black Sun, which has inexplicably taken over my brain and turntable for the last month to the point where I'm thinking of going to see the inevitably embarrassing X documentary+accompanying John Doe solo set (YIKES) @ aforementioned BAM next month--are YOU down???

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

getting ignorant at the museum

In school, maybe once a semester, I would find all of my classes somehow synching up with each other, and have this heartstoppingly clear FLASH, which had no particular significance besides a sort of pop-Zen realization that everything, somehow, fit together. These fleeting moments, when things fundamentally made sense if for no deeper reason beyond their lining up to make a clear and complete picture, made school worth it.
Something like that happened to me today,

in a few instants when I was standing in front of this Jeff Wall photo (note: probably about 5' long) at the MoMA, and I thought of a part in the Barthes book I'm reading now (The Pleasure of the Text) when he describes his pleasure in reading an overly detailed description of a clothesline-- "manic exactitude," he calls it. And you can't see it here on the internet, but this photo has a similar excess of detail; each blade of grass and pinpoint flower in the tripartite cascade in the center of the picture picture seems all too vivid, an overload of texture that reminded me of something I did when I was a kid and we drove on a road called Spooky Hollow on the way to elementary school, when I'd stare out the window at the gravel and dirt and weeds at the margin of the road until they coalesced into a transfixing earth-tones blur that I would watch morphing as we drove forwards.

The clarity of this sense-memory returned me to another book I'm reading now, Sebald's Austerlitz, which is kind of an attempt to engage with history's sweep via intense, visceral memories; and this idea of the epic scale of history mingling with highly personal moments and recollections brings me back to the picture at hand, named "The Storyteller," after (natch) the Benjamin essay about the loss of "epic memory" in the age of capitalist modernity and the resulting decline of the "storyteller" figure, as seen in this romanticized photo of a group of homeless First Nations people, the kind of people whose practices--as I wrote in the paper I turned in last week--various and sundry government bodies have made desperate efforts to museify, to turn into "cultural treasures" or "human heritage" or whateves, to artificially recapture a kind of re-telling that may or may not be lost to us.

This paper earned me a barely qualified "very good," a sort of grade I haven't received since high school, when I used to skip out early on my internship to go to
the MoMA, where I hadn't been since it reopened, which gave me (earlier today) the peculiar sensation of finding myself in front of, of all things, the Demoiselles d'Avignon and feeling a warm coming-home sensation.

The photo, though, also put me in mind of my friend Veronica, who tells the best stories and who used to live in Vancouver, where Jeff Wall took this, and who has singularly detailed memories, like you'll be talking to her and she'll bring up a fleeting incident from when she was a kid that fits the situation at hand perfectly in a way no one else I know can manage. I texted her from in front of the picture to see if she'd seen the exhibit.

and that's what I thought about when I saw this picture.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Rohm-in' Around

No one could deny the influence of the setting of one's viewing of a movie on one's ultimate opinion of the thing itself: if I hadn't watched Talladega Nights with a team of howling bros, maybe I'd be convinced of its inferiority; similarly, I liked Two-Lane Blacktop well enough after watching it with a pal who H.A.T.E.D. it, but seeing it in a theater full of rapt fans pushed it into the ranks of my all-time faves. Ben thinks that I'd concur that Cache suxx had I watched it with him rolling his eyes next to me and not in the theater with a couple hundred other people also taking part in the most profound collective gasp-of-horror at that part, but I dunno about that.
In sum, a million thanks go to Lev and Whitney for putting together one of the nicest afternoons in recent memory: 3 Eric Rohmer movies, copious snax and white wine, a jaunt in the park and an espresso, good company, a porch, etc. A regular rite of spring!
Prior to this afternoon, I didn't like Eric Rohmer particularly--I think I saw part of My Night at Maud's and found it dull--and was kind of theoretically against gabbing bouge Frenchies, but this shinding turned me around completely. We saw La Collectionneuse, Love in the Afternoon, and Suzanne's Career. Perhaps I have just partaken in an atypical number of "girl problems" conversations this past year? But I found these movies engaging, even delightful.
First off, even if we don't go off on jaunts to the Riviera or buy cashmere buttondowns (?!) on our lunchbreaks or roll with the world's most attractive people, the shown in the films are beautifully familiar. The voiceover narration Rohmer uses in all of these (all of his?) movies works really well: as I think many have pointed out, it allows you to see the disparity between thought/plans and their true-life manifestations, but further, it permits you to envelop yourself in the narrator's mindset and, even if you rarely actually like him, to understand him to a point of sympathy. The two color films looked stunning (though to be fair, if you're filming on the Riviera you kind of can't help that, I think. See: the work of xoxoJacques Demy, esp. the b&w Lola and La Baie des anges). Also, this may sound ignorant, but for movies that revolve almost exclusively around the question of "should I do this chick," the lady cipher/characters have unexpected richness and depth, particularly Chloe in L'amour, who's persistently a wreck but in so many different and surprising ways that you understand the narrator's confusion perfectly.
When I was trying to explain to Ned why I liked these so, I started off with, "well, they're kind of like real life," which I instantly realized was insufficient reason to qualify a movie as "good." Recently, though, I've felt especially drawn to this kind of film--Killer of Sheep as mentioned below, that movie Funny Ha Ha (the protagonist of which officially reminds 4 people of me)--as opposed to, I dunno, more epic-scale world-problems-focused movies with more drama and guns and shit. There's something fundamentally bougie about this, I think; no one whose life isn't kind of ok anyway likes movies that are just about how ordinary life functions, and there's something narcissistic about watching things that "bring out the drama of everyday life," that valorize the scale of yr own navel-gazing. But I dunno, I'm down.
These movies have a lot of really delightful bits, too. The past few days, the fantasy sequence in L'amour, L'apres-midi and the seance in Suzanne are stuck in my head like a song.