Posts from — August 2010
Omahyra, New York, 2004
Albert Watson in his New York City studio reflects on his 40-year career.
A Life On Film
By Mike Foldes
with photographs by Chuck Haupt
Albert Watson’s iconic photographs have touched the lives of millions of men and women over the past forty years. With more than 250 Vogue covers, 40 covers for Rolling Stone, movie posters, movie star portraits, and more, it’s unlikely anyone who’s ever browsed a magazine rack in a bookstore, bus station or airport hasn’t at one time or another seen an Albert Watson cover.
The following interview was conducted in mid-July at Watson’s ground floor loft-office-studio in Tribeca. We’re let into the building lobby by security and met at the studio door by a young lady who disappears into the back room to announce our arrival — and, I gather, to see if we are even expected. We stand at the door for a moment and then move inside to a foyer with a big-as-life photograph of a NASA space suit on the wall.
Albert Watson comes into the room looking as he does in many of his published interviews and photos, dressed in a black shirt buttoned to the neck, black pants, black beret more or less tilted backwards as if the wind were forever blowing in his face, and a pretty cool pair of sneakers.We introduce ourselves to one another, exchange some pleasantries, then face off across a stainless steel table from deep seats on black leather sofas for what is expected to be about a 45-minute Q&A leaving little time for warm-up.
The interview has been arranged by Watson’s son, Aaron, who manages the photographer’s demanding schedule of museum exhibitions, interviews, commissions and gallery shows that have taken him most recently to Scotland (his native land) and Spain. Aaron is a former Associated Press sports editor, and spent many years traveling from one main event to another, including the Athens Olympics, the World Cup in Japan, the British Open, and more. He is not at the studio when we arrive, but comes in later looking very comfortable in jeans and T-Shirt, and carrying a motorcycle helmet.
Photography historian Gail Buckland, who wrote the introduction for UFO, one of Watson’s forthcoming books, was present for the interview.
The following is an edited version of that session.
Regarding Strip Search:
AW: The pictures go way back. The Vegas book was shot the year 2000, 2004 about 16 weeks of shooting off and on for two years, a six-month break and then another year. But basically those weeks were dropped in, in like one and two week periods over that period of time. Several things held up the production of that book, just projects I was doing, museum shows, gallery shows I was doing, then it really came down to the wire because we were able with the publisher to really package two books together, UFO and Strip Search. So basically it meant that, basically I sat before a computer for four-and-a-half to six months pulling material for UFO.
The Vegas material was all together because that was one project. But pulling stuff, material for UFO that went back a long period of time, required a massive amount of research. Sometimes we’d be spending four or five days just looking for specific genre, or a specific thing. Basically, from ‘84 … ’83, the archives are very, very, ridiculously well organized… and previous to that, previous to that, things between ‘78 and ’84, things were quite well organized, and before ‘78 things were in boxes. And that’s pretty much how it went…. so it enabled some of the old stuff to come through …
Strip Search / Albert Watson
UFO / Albert Watson
Hat Blocks / Albert Watson
Classics / Albert Watson
Kids / Albert Watson
View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.
- STRIP SEARCH:
Hardcover, two volumes • 14″ x 11″ (portrait) 11″ x 14″ (landscape)
180 pages each • 400 images approx.
Hardcover with rubber silk-screened case.
Boxed Edition: Two books presented in a clamshell cloth box with foil debossing
Publication date: Fall 2010
Introduction an essay by Tom Wolfe
Published by PQ Blackwell, www.pqblackwell.com
A project with a plan?
AW: Vegas was always very specific. And I had done a book on Morocco (Maroc), and I had shot in a classic style, classic photographic style, because of the nature of the country. I mean you can shoot anything. Just because a country has an ancient tradition doesn’t mean you have to shoot it in an ancient way. You can shoot it in different ways, and like it’s an old country you can shoot it in an old style. I was comfortable with that and after shooting Morocco I wanted something completely, absolutely different, and I found that in Vegas. I was fairly familiar with Vegas, and therefore it was easy for me to start that project. … I’ve been going to Vegas for years and years. A lot of times, sometimes for photographing people for jobs, for advertising jobs, and I’ve directed quite a lot of TV commercials based out of Vegas. You’d use the desert around Vegas, but Vegas would be the base for shooting.
About the Web, and a video of Henry Rollins shot in the old Folger’s building in New Jersey:
AW: We don’t place any of that stuff. Aaron does things on the website. So he controls the web site. But beyond the website, all the interviews just get posted. Sometimes Rolling Stone will posts things, because they do music videos that get posted.
What about Hat Blocks?
AW: For quite a few years I collected hat blocks. When I say for quite a few years it sounds like I have a lot of hat blocks. I don’t. I maybe have about 24 of them but I collected the 24 of them over a period of about 10 years. So they’re interesting objects and very sculptural. And interestingly enough you can collect them in England, you can collect them in France, Germany and America. Obviously around the turn of the century hats were gigantic business and therefore hat manufacturing was a big thing all over and I just found hat blocks interesting.
Hat Blocks / Albert Watson
UFO / Albert Watson
Classics / Albert Watson
Kids / Albert Watson
Strip Search / Albert Watson
View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.
What’s left to shoot, and are you casual about finding ‘it’?
AW: I’m never casual. I’m always pretty determined about finding things, you know. Basically I’m always looking for things. Any good photographer should always be looking for something, you know.
If you’re casual you’re not going to be successful in what you find. If anything’s too relaxed and laid back, and so on. I’m not saying casually… If you sit in your library going through 150 photo books, or books on painters, or reading, you’re right, that can be construed as casual, but you’ll be looking for something. For inspiration. Very often it might be that you would find something in a book, you might look at something in a still life that might inspire you to do something in portraiture. You don’t necessarily find a portrait and suddenly say I’m going to go ahead and do a portrait because that inspires me to do a portrait of somebody. I’m fairly lucky. When you’re passionate about something it’s the passion that’s the driving force to find things. Looking and working. Of course you go to museums and galleries, and New York is fabulous for that.
I think I can go to an entire museum show and not get any inspiration but I can immensely enjoy the show. Other times you go and see something quite casual, an exhibition of furniture which is not related to painting – I mean it’s a three-dimensional object, and for some reason that can be inspiring, and can help you see something.
How quickly up the ladder?
R: When you first got into taking pictures of personalities in California, how did that evolve so rapidly? Was it the Hitchcock portrait? Or was it a variety of circumstances?
AW: No, I’m not that lucky. You don’t just happen… It’s pretty unusual in the magazine business for somebody who’s producing, say, Harper’s Bazaar magazine, which Hitchcock was for… it’s not so casual that someone says, “My nephew has a camera. Would you like him to photograph Alfred Hitchcock?”
R: From other interviews it sounds like someone gave you a camera one day, and the next day you’re taking pictures of Alfred Hitchcock.
AW: Well someone abbreviated things. I was at university for seven years having a visual education pumped into my brain. So it wasn’t seven years of photography, but it was four years of graphic design and three years of film school. During that period of time, of course, I had a camera as a graphic designer, and photography was viewed as a craft subject towards graphic design. So you’re not really a photographer, but you’re using it. If you want to do a poster and you say, “Well, I need a picture of a flower for the poster,” they would encourage you to take a picture of the flower and then you lay the typography on your own picture.
And that was my first real contact, as it were, with photography. So I had a lot of training. And then when I went to California I began shooting fairly rapidly for, doing cosmetic advertising for Max Factor — and that was kind of fortuitous. But between 1970 and 1973, I really developed a commercial business. I was working as a professional photographer. You know, a very raw one. But I was working and making — not so much raw as when I was doing cosmetics advertising. But somebody in the advertising agency that handles Max Factor says to me, “I loved those pictures you did of that girl in the ocean. Have you ever thought about photographing cars?” And I said “No.” “Well, would you be interested? I’ve got a car that needs photographing, and we were talking about doing it at the beach, a truck at the beach…”And I did it, and it was very successful, and then I started doing a lot of cars.
But by that time I was more and more becoming aware of light and using studio lighting. I was getting jobs but I was also learning at the same time and I was always doing a lot of testing on my own. So I might have a job on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday I wasn’t shooting, so I would always be shooting.
I would invent something, I would call up a modeling agency and say send me over a girl. I’d call up a designer for clothes and say send me over some clothes. Get hair and makeup people to work with, and so on. And bit by bit, in California, we built up a reputation as being a very productive studio. And from that, somebody from New York called, in ’73, and said, “We need a photographer out there to photograph Alfred Hitchcock. Are you available to do that?” You know… and I said “Yes,” and that was the first celebrity I photographed.
The opening for Albert Watson’s solo show
at the Hasted Hunt Kraeutler Gallery
in NYC is scheduled for Oct. 21,
with a book party/signing scheduled for Oct. 23.
ALL ALBERT WATSON PHOTOS ARE COPYRIGHT
ALBERT WATSON & USED WITH PERMISSION OF THE PHOTOGRAPHER.
Chuck Haupt Photos © Chuck Haupt & ragazine.cc, 2010
August 21, 2010 1 Comment
Names Were Changed to Protect…
(or, The Things My Grandfathers Did to Survive)
They all called him Johnny K, anyway.
All but the many who heard
And told him to get out,
Stay out and never come back.
So he cleaved a couple of syllables
For the sake of a job
Railroad bull or driving a suicide load
Across the mountains to keep himself
And his orphaned brothers and sisters
And later his two daughters and wife
And then me
If he hadn’t been Herr Doktor,
Would he have had the nerve
To insist on a fair exchange
Of a vowel for the umlaut
The Ellis Island clerk
Was going to take anyway
When the alternative was spelled
I think Matthew, the tax collector,
was Jesus’ staff statistician.
Why else would he think we’d care that
“the very hairs of our head are all numbered.”
And this makes me think of my pastor, John Fischer,
who sermonizes that I should think this inventory
comforting, but semi-heathen that I am,
find myself saddled
with a high-definition image of God as
an obsessive compulsive savant,
like the guy Dustin Hoffman portrayed in “Rainman.”
And this makes me think of Lenny,
the kid from my neighborhood,
who when we were growing up,
was most politely referred to as “retarded”.
Lenny could rattle off the age
of every person we knew in common.
If this conversation was happening now
he’d tell me, “I 52, you 50, Mike 49, Dennis 50, Stewie 50, Richard 46, etc.”
and seems hardwired to know
exactly when each of our odometers turns over
to another year.
So, although I’ve never shared
a birthday celebration with him,
he will wake up the morning of August 13
and instinctively add another tick mark
to the inventory of my mortality.
And thinking of Lenny makes me think
of what I’ve recently learned
is known as the “euphemism treadmill”,
the evolution… or de-evolution as two of my favorite Georges…
Orwell and Carlin… saw it, of language.
For example, forty years ago Lenny was mentally retarded.
He knew this, seemed accepting of it
and placed himself on the pecking order of others
in his situation.
He’d say, “You know Louis Nelson?
I a retart, but he really a retart.”
Today I’m told that Lenny and Louis are not retarded,
but at last check are referred to as
developmentally challenged… developmentally special… developmentally delayed…
or whatever else they’ve been redubbed since I typed this.
And thinking of the euphemism treadmill
makes me think of Sherman Alexie,
who, to use the politically correct euphemism,
is a Native American novelist and poet.
I haven’t seen Lenny recently
to ask what he thinks about his change of semantic status,
but as Sherman says, “Indians call each other Indians.
Native American is a guilty white liberal thing.”
And of course, you, dear listener or reader, whichever the case may be,
may be thinking to yourself,
“he should have paid more attention
to hairs number 417, 2,392, 4,798, 303, etc.,
blah, blah, blah,
ha ha ha,
because they seem to have gone missing.”
And I reply yes,
I like to think of them as becoming,
what was referred to when I was in the retail business as shrink;
this one referring to the stuff that was
stolen, broken or had otherwise disappeared
from the shelves without being paid for.
And this makes me think that I should let you,
dear listener or reader, know that I,
even in polite company,
refer to myself as bald.
And all this makes me think of the poet Bob McKenty,
because on one Saturday afternoon Lenny appeared in my back yard
and after he reliably related the ages of everyone he assumed we both knew,
he too wondered, in his case aloud,
“I 36, you 34, I have hair, why you no have hair?”
After he left I mulled this while stripping a chair
I’d eventually refinish and began
composing a poem,
well, more a rant, called “Bad Hair Day”
which was quickly published by McKenty,
our contemporary Ogden Nash,
who normally publishes nothing
that is not strictly metrical and rhymed,
but found it funny enough to immortalize anyway.
And so, for this poem of sorts,
I think I’d like to thank Lenny and Bob and Matthew and Sherman and George and George and John and Dustin
and most importantly, a perhaps obsessive and savant-like
The Optometrics of Love
Thank you for being the one
who never looked
through lenses distorted
by the residue
of former boyfriends,
spouses and lovers
About the Poet:
Tony Gruenewald is the production manager of Edison Literary Review. His collection, The Secret History of New Jersey, was published by Northwind in 2009. To find out more, visit tonygruenewald.com.
August 21, 2010 Comments Off on Tony Gruenewald/Poetry
Death, that old whore
who gladly takes on all comers
will happily accommodate you
for the small price of your soul.
She will do you up good,
make sure you have no complaints,
and send you off into the night
Though you may be relieved
to be done when finished,
and you may not have wanted to come
in the first place,
since you have no choice
it’s best you take her hand
and follow her up those wornout stairs,
under the pulsing neon sign,
just as a thousand others
have done so tonight.
For she is used to reluctance
in all its forms. You
have nothing she hasn’t seen before
and will not see again.
When you’re spent
and have pulled those soiled bills
from your pocket,
just be sure you’ve paid in full.
To ensure your proper passage
leave every last sou on her bed.
She will appreciate the payment
for a job well done
and will send you
to the place prepared,
Mrs. Mathers died last night,
her fragile hold gave way.
I had seen her just last week.
She seemed to be okay,
but who knows at eighty-three?
She was sharp until the end,
her mind steeped in the mysteries she had read.
I saw these books arrive by mail,
they piled up in the lobby.
Some wait for her now.
They will not get her perusal.
Her penetrating eye could see through me,
she was nobody’s fool.
Once in the elevator I asked
what she was reading.
“Chandler,” she replied.
Her answer left no room
for further inquiry,
though the way she looked
at the elevator door told me
she was not intimidated by The Big Sleep,
nor anything else likely to come her way.
I will miss her cold, clear gaze
and the slight tell
that lingered on her face.
She took us all in
as something she’d seen before.
Still, I counted her as a friend.
Her daughters will now likely sell,
and a young couple with a baby
or maybe a corgi
will take her place.
This seems to be the trend.
Rob Mustard is a former English teacher, and retired professional photographer. His photographs appear in the May-June 2010 issue of ragazine.cc (See Archives). He and his wife Deborah live in El Segundo, California.
August 21, 2010 Comments Off on Robert Mustard/Poetry
Extra ! Extra ! –
The Paperboy Delivers Today’s Grooves
By Jeff Katz
Soul with balls. Eli “Paperboy” Reed brings it with Come and Get It, his first big time release courtesy of Capitol Records. Reed, the most soulful sound ever to come out of a Boston high school band, is part Wilson Pickett part Otis Redding, sometimes a shouter, sometimes a crooner, and that ain’t bad. Not bad at all.
From the joyous opening horn riff of “Young Girl” (no, not the Gary Puckett and The Union Gap “Young Girl”) to the frenzied anarchy of “Explosion,” Eli and his super-tight band, The True Loves, knock out the competition with the most enjoyable album of the year. It’s a retro romp that brings back the sounds that made AM radio of the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s a treat. Influences abound, but Eli Reed’s music is fresh and his biography unique.
How many musicians take this route to stardom: start at a New England high school as a lousy tenor saxman, head southwest to a Mississippi Delta blues joint, then follow Louis Armstrong’s journey upriver to a South Side Chicago church to play a little Sunday morning organ. But don’t stop there. Venture back East to Brooklyn hipster clubs and, finally, do a Horace Greely and “Go West Young Man” on a cross country sojourn to Hollywood and the home of The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Only one guy I can think of, and it’s not Rand McNally.
Eli learned a lot down in Clarksdale. Not only did he discover how an 18 year old could make it on his own in the hotbed of the blues, but how to deliver a tune. The Delta Bluesmen never play it coy with their ladies. Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Son House – they weren’t asking, they were telling. When the “Paperboy” (dubbed so by the veteran players who dug the old timey newsboy hat he sported) sings to the womenfolk, he lays it down for real – he is the man they want, he is the man they need. In “Name Calling,” which sounds like a lost Jackson 5 classic, Reed informs his latest conquest that she went “from name calling to calling my name.” He takes great relish in her comeuppance.
College was no place for the “Paperboy,” and though he gave the University of Chicago a chance, it was in the sounds of the city that he earned his degree, spinning southern soul for his college radio station between bites of greasy fried chicken. (Don’t smudge those LPs). A devotee of performers famous and unknown, Reed tracked down Mitty Collier, a former Chess Records artist who was now preaching the gospel. She brought him in to play and sing at her Sunday service. Finding the Mitty Colliers of the world has been a way of life for Eli. “I’ve definitely made it a point to seek some of these people out who’ve inspired me.” Towering groovemeisters like Mel & Tim (“Backfield in Motion”) and Tyrone Davis (“Turn Back the Hands of Time”) may have been long forgotten by a public that finds Lady Gaga sublime, but they’re never far from the mind of Eli Reed.
A return to Boston jump started his recording career. Sings Walkin’ and Talkin’ and Other Smash Hits! and Roll With You got the boy some notice in the press. Rolling Stone named Reed a “Breaking Artist,” and, in the UK, he was nominated for a 2009 MOJO Award as Breakthrough Artist of the Year. With that the old music industry took note, and, there you have it, a contract with Capitol Records. Now back to Come and Get It, Reed’s most polished effort yet. The additional horns and strings add to the authenticity of his sound.
The title track is the standout, with the greatest harmony heard since The Friends of Distinction (“I Can Dig It, He Can Dig It, She Can Dig It, We Can Dig It…”). “Come and Get It,” the song, was recently BBC Radio 2’s “Record of the Week.” In “Tell Me What I Wanna Hear,” Reed turns the impossible, taking the melody of Ray Stevens’ cornball classic “Everything is Beautiful” and making it swing. His gospel grooming comes through in the thumping hand clapper “You Can Run On.” There’s no praising the good Lord here. The religious grounds: Eli’s irresistibility to the helpless female.
Reed is a big fan of the ultimate musical expression, the 3 minute pop song. “For me,” says Reed, “it’s all about writing pop songs. Soul music was the greatest pop music of the 20th century and its influence is so far-reaching.” Write on, brother.
The penultimate track, “Pick Your Battles,” takes the album down several notches. It’s a breather, folks, for the insane horns of a Medieval celebration run amok. “Explosion” is a fuzzy treat, crazy man, just crazy. Part James Brown, part Eli Reed. Prepare for the countdown. BOOM!
The cover of Come and Get It shows a generic supermarket, its shelves crammed with packages labeled meat sauce, bleach, crackers… You get the idea. Smack in the middle is the always sharp Eli “Paperboy” Reed. His pompadour (absent in off-hours) rises high, his leather suit shines, his black boots gleam. When you visit your local store, pick up a copy of his latest. but don’t head to the “7 items or less” line. All 12 cust on Come and Get It are part of a well-balanced and musically nutritious diet.
One-Trick Pony Thirty Years Later
By Jeff Katz
Nineteen-eighty was a tough year for ‘60’s rock icons. January found Paul McCartney in a Tokyo jail, forced to sing “Yesterday” repeatedly by fellow inmates after being busted by customs officials for possession of marijuana. In May, Macca released a logic defying embrace of synth-pop on McCartney II, the cover bearing a striking similarity to a mug shot. Bob Dylan was in the middle of his “praised be Jesus” period, releasing one of the worst records in his catalog, Saved. The Rolling Stones were well into self-parody, and Emotional Rescue, their summer release, was a weak collection, the best songs a hollow mimicry of their sound, the worst unlistenable. No one had a worse year than John Lennon, gunned down in December by a lunatic.
The new decade saw a new face on the silver screen – Paul Simon. One-Trick Pony, both the movie and album, were the first missteps of Simon’s remarkably successful career. After a cute cameo in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, and a hilarious donning of a turkey suit on Saturday Night Live, Simon spent three years writing the screenplay and the songs for his first and only starring role as one-hit has-been Jonah Levin (Levin’s “Soft Parachutes” is including in the CD release). Levin is the “there but for the grace of God” version of Simon. Simon in the lead role is difficult to watch, his range lying somewhere between sleepwalker and corpse. A smoldering sex symbol he is not.
The film has many redeeming scenes: Jonah shaving while his little son pretends, a two-man baseball game between father and child in Central Park, and Levin’s band playing a naming game called “Rock and Roll Deaths” in the van between gigs, arguing whether they should separate the plane crash victims from the overdosers. One-Trick Pony is worth tracking down. Not only do you get to see Paul Simon’s miraculously lush head of hair, most recently seen thinning and combed over on 1977’s Greatest Hits, Etc., but you can also marvel at Lou Reed as a scumbag record producer.
Critics hated the movie and audiences stayed away. It was a resounding flop. But, hey, acting was not Paul Simon’s forte, cut him some slack. Music, now that’s where he ruled. After all, there hadn’t been one solo album of Simon’s that wasn’t better, by far, than anything Simon & Garfunkel produced. That the vinyl version of One-Trick Pony was erratic was a shock to the ears when it hit record store racks on September 6, 1980.
Simon the actor showed no spark, no fire, but at least he was consistent. Simon the singer-songwriter was positively schizophrenic. The cuts are of two varieties: Jonah Levin performances and Paul Simon commenting on Jonah Levin. Maybe the Levin songs are Paul’s best bit of acting, because the tunes are flat and false, but, after all, Jonah is a mediocre performer. Could Paul Simon have intended to write half-assed songs for his onscreen doppelganger? Doubtful, though it’s worth considering. “Late in the Evening,” though propelled by a Latin horn section, is an empty experience, and when Jonah/Paul sings, “I went outside to smoke myself a ‘J’,” it is pandering of the highest order. The sly little guitar line by Eric Gale punctuates the quasi-hip reference that is sure to get the obligatory cheer from the crowd. Side 2 begins with a mirror image of the leadoff track. “Ace in the Hole” may be Paul Simon’s worst song, and that includes, “The Dangling Conversation,” which reeked of sophomoric pseudo-intellectualism. The title track lays somewhere in between these two in quality, equally as slick and devoid of real emotion.
The real songs, the songs that speak of relationships, personal angst and wistful nostalgia are top of the line Simon. “That’s Why God Made the Movies,” “Oh, Marion” and “Nobody” (especially “Nobody”) are stellar works of genius. There are more. It’s a difficult album, well worth your time three decades later as the touchstone of an artist in transition.
Even more interesting is what followed. One-Trick Pony was Simon’s first studio album as a solo performer that didn’t crack the Top Ten (though “Late in the Evening” did). It was disappointing news to Warner Brothers, who had signed the hit maker to a three-album deal worth between $10-15 million. For Simon, the one-two combination of movie failure and weak sales propelled him into a place he had resisted: a reunion with Art Garfunkel. Garfunkel’s acting and recording career were in the toilet and, he too, was up for a moneymaking uniting of forces.
The overwhelmingly popular Central Park concert, attended by half a million strong was followed by a national tour. Paul was put back on his confident feet, so much so that he unilaterally erased Artie’s vocals from the planned-for new Simon & Garfunkel record. Now simply another solo effort, 1983’s Hearts and Bones made One-Trick Pony look like a smash hit. It sputtered out at #35 on the album charts.
It didn’t matter now. Paul had completely freed himself of trying to understand what the movie-going and music-listening audience wanted from him. So, if he wanted to record his lyrics atop the swinging mbaqanga sounds of South African musicians backing him, well, then that’s what he was going to do. Graceland, the product of his newly found liberation would become his biggest success, selling 14,000,000 copies and garnering the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1986. “Graceland” the song would win 1987’s Song of the Year Award.
One-Trick Pony is the pivot point to the third phase of Paul Simon’s career, when he brought world music to the popular consciousness of American record buyers. For that, it should be remembered, revisited and celebrated on its 30th anniversary.
August 21, 2010 Comments Off on Eli “Paperboy” Reed/Music Review
August 21, 2010 Comments Off on Sarah Ellison Lewis/Fashion
Meditations in Metal
Occasionally something catches the eye, whether the barb is uniqueness, simplicity, or a blast of heat that melts into the imagination. Miya Ando’s metal plates exhibit simplicity, but that minimalism is based upon what is seen, not what is hidden within the crafting of the object, or within the viewer, the complex melding of which determines whether and how the object comes to life. In this case, one opens the mind’s eye to enter a world captured in the metamorphosis from cold hard steel to cold hard steel with a contemplative soul.
Ando’s artist’s statement explains her attachment to metal work flows from her ancestors, including “Bizen swordmaker Ando Yoshiro Masakatsu. She was raised among sword smiths-turned Buddhist priests in a Buddhist temple in Okayama, Japan.,” and it is that heritage that “informs every aspect of my work.”
We were putting together this edition of ragazine.cc when Ando e-mailed that she had just finished installing a public commission for the Healing Place Meditation Room in Louisville, Kentucky. Titled “Shelter [Meditation 1-12], it is made of 12 g cold-rolled steel panels in a 40-foot parabola, a “polyptych” finished with patina, pigment, phosphorescence and automotive lacquer.
“Shinobu” (meditation 1-20), a skateboard series sponsored by Element opening at the de Castallane Gallery in Brooklyn, with a reception October 7, 2010. “Shinobu” (perseverance), is comprised of large scale works and steel skateboards. Proceeds from the sale of Meditation 1 will be donated to Elemental Awareness. vvvvvvv vvvvvvvvvv vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv
View larger photos from the gallery please enter the FS button.
For more about Brooklyn-based artist Miya Ando, visit: http://www.miyaando.com/
August 21, 2010 Comments Off on Miya Ando/Art
Wali watched skeptically as Rasool crouched on the floor unfolding the carpet. “I’m not buying right now,” he said. “The store is way too full.” He lifted his arms and gestured around him. The floors were entirely covered with stacks of rugs, the walls were draped with ancient Chinese and Afghan pieces, and every aisle was lined with either a Turkish runner or a faded Kilim. Just outside the door, greeting the numerous cars and pedestrians on College Avenue, was a stack of camel bags resting on a sawhorse.
“Come on, Wali, just have a look. This is the most beautiful Gabbeh in the world, I swear,” Rasool said, winking at Wali.
When Rasool had the carpet spread out evenly on the floor, Wali walked around its perimeter with his arms folded across his chest.
“The colors are too bright—synthetic. And it can’t be more than fifty years old,” Wali said.
“C’mon man, it’s beautiful! What’s wrong with you? You could sell it in a day and you know it,” Rasool snapped back.
Rasool was right, it was beautiful. Probably the most beautiful Gabbeh Wali had ever seen. Unlike the others, it was not dominated by eccentric geometric shapes and figures, making it look as if it were woven by a child. Instead the entire field was filled with brilliantly colored roses — magenta, orange, fuchsia, and gold, each lined up side by side, separated by an almost imperceptible square frame.
It was also true that Wali could sell it in a day. In fact, he had at least three clients who would buy it unseen, over the phone, at whatever price he asked. Tribal carpets were hot, and Gabbehs the most collectable. Turning over a corner to inspect the knots, Wali realized the entire rug was as soft as a blanket.
“How much?” Wali asked.
“I won’t take less than ten thousand. You know it’s worth twice that — easy.”
“But you still owe me five from the Mercedes,” Wali said.
“Okay, five,” Rasool said firmly. “You’ve got to give it to me today, though. My landlord’s going to throw me out of my apartment.”
“Your wife’s on the phone, Wali,” Alexander the shop assistant called from the back of the store. “She wants you to pick up a bag of rice and some yogurt from Safeway on your way home.”
Wali did not respond. Instead he bent over and began folding up the rug. Rasool grabbed at the opposite end.
“How’s Zara?” Rasool asked.
“And your daughter, does she like college?”
“Sure, she’s all right. Can you take a check?”
“As long as it’s good.”
After Rasool left, Wali put the carpet in the back office and went home for the day, leaving Alexander to close up.
When Wali opened the shop the following morning the entire back office smelled of flowers. Not the sharp smell of a cheap perfume, but the intoxicating wine-like fragrance of a large blossoming red rose. Wali was reminded of his mother’s garden back home.
“You see,” she would say, bending down to smell a rose, “they are sweet, just like God.”
“Good morning,” Alexander said, arriving late for work, as usual.
“Good morning,” Wali answered, not looking up. “Hey, Alexander, did you have a girl in here last night?”
Alexander was at that age and Wali knew he occasionally brought friends into the shop late at night to party. As long as they cleaned up after themselves and didn’t start a fire, he didn’t mind.
“Of course not!” Alexander said, pretending to be offended. “Why?”
“The place smells of flowers.”
“I don’t smell anything,” Alexander said, sniffing at the air.
“I guess it’s nothing. Forget it. I’m sorry.”
Wali thought of calling Dr. Weinsfeld about the new Gabbeh. Then he remembered how pretty it was. Maybe I’ll hold off and keep it in the shop for a few days, he thought to himself. What do I need money for? Zara will just spend it on a new washing machine. No, I’ll savor it for a little while. Besides, it will be nice for the customers to see.
Wali sat at his desk waiting for Sharon, the young girl from the hair salon next door, to come out for her morning cigarette. Unlike the other carpet dealers in town, Wali did not go out at night drinking or keep a mistress. Instead, he limited the pleasures in his life to three: his wife’s cooking, spoiling his daughter, and visiting with Sharon in the morning when she had her cigarette. The problem was that lately, for some unknown reason, his wife had begun withdrawing the one last remaining bit of joy she still managed to give him. Her rice was almost always sticky now, her vegetables pale and lifeless, and she hardly ever used spices anymore. Lately his evening meal had become little more than the necessary acquisition of sustenance, ingested at a silent table. To make matters worse, his beautiful, most-beloved daughter had just started college and was hardly ever home. Sharon was all he had left. The minute he saw the edge of her flowered skirt in the front window, Wali grabbed his pack of cigarettes and leapt from his chair.
“Good morning,” he said, smiling.
“Good morning,” she said, smiling back. “How’s things?”
“Okay,” Wali said, looking down at the pavement.
“You look tired, Wali. You work too hard. What you need is a good massage.” Sharon stretched out her long, ringed fingers, and kneaded at the air like dough. Wali stared in enchantment. “You should come over to my place sometime after work, I’ll give you one. I’ve taken classes, you know.” Wali was blushing like a teenage boy.
“What’ll it be today?” he said, trying to change the subject. “A dragon, a lion, the Tree of Life, what about diamonds?” Each morning, Wali would ask Sharon this question, and then dash into his shop to look for a corresponding theme in a carpet for the front window. “Actually,” Wali said, remembering the rose rug, “I have a surprise for you.” He then stuck his head in the door and asked Alexander to hang the new rug in the front window.
Now, Wali owned some pretty impressive carpets, and he was not stingy with what he allowed to be exposed to the harsh afternoon sun. Why, just yesterday he hung up a Nain that once belonged to the Shah of Iran, simply because Sharon asked for birds gathered around a fountain. But nothing, not even that silk Nain, had ever made her eyes sparkle quite the way they did when she saw Alexander unfolding the rose Gabbeh.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, putting out her cigarette so she could go inside for a closer look.
“Wali, It’s beautiful!” She repeated, brushing one of its soft corners against her cheek.
“Where is it from?”
“Iran. It was made by a nomadic tribe.”
“Nomads, cool! How much is it?”
Sharon had never asked Wali the price of one of his carpets before. This was a good thing, in his view, since he knew she would not understand. The Nain up the day before was worth eighty-five thousand, maybe more. How could he possibly tell this to a young girl giving massages after work to earn extra cash?
“Oh Sharon, I don’t know. I haven’t priced it yet.”
Sharon spent the whole day popping out of the salon to have a cigarette and admire the rug. Every so often Wali could overhear her proudly explaining to one of her coworkers that it was woven by nomads.
At about four o’ clock that afternoon a middle-aged man driving a vintage Jaguar pulled up in front of the store. He stood for some time looking at the rose carpet before coming inside and asking Alexander to take it down. Wali sat in the back office watching. The minute Alexander brought out the step stool, Sharon appeared with another cigarette. Wali waited a few minutes before getting up to greet his customer.
“Good afternoon, sir,” Wali said, finally making his appearance. “Wonderful piece, isn’t it?” The man didn’t respond. Instead he walked slowly around the carpet.
“The dyes are mostly synthetic,” the man said, stopping to flip over a corner of the rug with his shoe, “and it’s not terribly old either.”
Wali glanced outside at Sharon, who was pacing back and forth like an angry animal.
“No, you’re right. It’s not very old, maybe fifty years.”
Sharon motioned for Wali to come outside. He pretended not to see, but then she leaned her head in the doorway and softly called his name.
“Excuse me for a moment,” Wali said. “Would you like some tea? Alexander, please bring this gentleman some tea.”
Sharon stood nervously in front of Wali. “Is he going to buy it?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
She then leaned close to him, so close he could smell her. It was the same intoxicating fragrance that filled his office earlier that morning. “Wali,” she said, “whatever that man offers, I’ll give you twice as much.” Again she stretched out her ringed fingers for him and rubbed a mound of imaginary flesh. “Twice as much,” she repeated in a whisper.
Wali was drunk with her smell and the sight of her young hands when he walked back into his store. Twice as much, he thought to himself. Twice as much.
When he returned, the man was sitting on the edge of a large stack of carpets, holding his cup of tea and scowling down at the rug.
“I’m very sorry to keep you waiting,” Wali said, as he quickly began folding up the rose carpet.
“Please, don’t take it away. I’m thinking of buying it. How much?”
“I’m sorry, it’s already been sold. I’ll have Alexander show you some more tribal weavings.”
“I don’t understand,” the man replied, clearly irritated.
“I’m very sorry, sir, but this carpet is sold. I have to leave now. Alexander will help you. There are many more beautiful rugs in the store. You will find another you love.”
Wali held the rose Gabbeh in his arms like a baby as he left the store. The girl is so sweet, he said to himself. Like God.
About the author:
Mira Martin-Parker is pursuing an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University. Her work has appeared in Diverse Voices Quarterly, Literary Bohemian, Mythium, Tattoo Highway, Yellow Medicine Review, and Zyzzyva.
August 20, 2010 1 Comment
On the other hand, I am certain
that you are no stranger to dark rooms.
You can’t be unfamiliar
with the barely visible shapes of beasts
breathing like the inertia of absent light
that turn their anatomies inside out
into other shapes of other beasts
in a constant regeneration of malformations
in the roar of silence that sounds like desert sand.
There is an indefinite space
that is the extension of the mind
in the landscape of where thoughts traverse
along the surface of illusory clouds
into impossible geographies that don’t exist on the map
and someone’s late aunt lives there
with her unacknowledged autobiographies.
Sometimes in a dark room
it is irrelevant that we are human.
There is a time that circles the periphery of time
where someone crawls into bed beside you
who isn’t even there
and makes love to you like a summer rain
in the dream of San Francisco
or a flower growing on the electric moon
blooming into the soundless decibels of starlight —
shining like unsleeping eyes in the dark
where invisibility does not have a conceptual center
and morning is an unlived century
that only knows this story by association
of everything it is not.
Egg, Cartoon, and Temple
The preliminary images that slipped from the chaos of the unconscious
before I entered a full blown dream last night
were like a cinematic tableau of disconnections.
First, you were in the kitchen having just boiled an egg for yourself,
and you were peeling it, angry about something,
so you salted it with an excess of salt
and then stuffed the entire egg into your mouth
and prepared for bed.
And then, I was an expertly drawn cartoon in 19th century dress
wearing spectacles and carrying a parasol
when I attempted to stop a young girl, also a cartoon in 19th century dress
from stumbling into moving traffic.
And the suspense accelerated into the question of her survival
before the image escaped the frame of my mind
into the darkness of aborted dream scenarios.
And then there were pillars in a temple
and the green light from the only window spilled onto the perfect marble
of the floor and the walls, without the hollow sound
of the clicking shoes of women amongst the echoes
of that colossal and sanctified structure,
without any repenting followers bowing to pray,
without the specific context of situation or circumstance,
like it merely existed as a structure
because of the way time begins to mourn for itself
after we are all too familiar with the genocides of its history.
Just for tonight, let’s say that you are Magellan
and I am the earth, with all the discoverable
geographies of my body.
Say the ordered choreography of the planets
never orbited to the infrequent side of the sun
and my thighs were vast continents
interrupted by the deaf ocean between them.
Say you navigate that ocean
like a novice explorer in his unvarnished youth
before he knows too much for his own good.
What if those anthologies you are reading
with such diligence and compassion
reach out and take hold of you with their terrible claws
and you drown in Moore’s paradox
between mortality and eternity
and her footnoted phrases
as though we were prescient angels
susceptible to literary hazards of love.
Or let’s say the morality of my body
was Rumi’s field beyond right and wrong
which blurs like the sky into the sea
and I am the ghost of a mother you have imagined
weeping at the airport, and we reconcile with the
obscured texts of our pasts, and sleep like train stations
when the trains aren’t running, and forget everything
when the cold dawn chills us with its cruel light.
Smoke and Snow
Inside the mind there are roads that snake into a chimera.
Their conceptual frameworks never seek destinations
but question their own questions
like terrible children who don’t comprehend the sky.
Their philosophies have the integrity of the foundations
of structures that disassemble and then rise from their ashes
like great birds exploding into hysterical flight.
The archeological excursion into the depths of subconscious
is a perilous venture. I dig and dig and wind up
emerging with darkness and more darkness
that folds into itself like a lover bowing
to bury his head in the clemency of my thighs
with pinholes of light piercing it like stars
in some distinct recollection of a November
when a man stood like a superimposition
of a god-like figure against the city in the twilight
smelling like smoke and snow
that filled my breath like something splitting
without disrupting the center
inside the perfect stillness of its concentric whole.
About the Poet:
Emily Vogel is the assistant poetry editor of ragazine.cc. Her biography appears on the “About Us” page.
August 20, 2010 Comments Off on Emily Vogel/Poetry
All week I work on building the humongous contraption in my front yard. I build it out of a hundred things: the engine from a ’56 Chevy, an espresso machine, various farm equipment, a conveyor belt, two propane refrigerators, a well pump, a hot water heater with shotgun holes for ventilation, a Remington typewriter, a rusted catalytic convertor, the stained grass bag from a broken lawnmower, six wind-up alarm clocks, a fire hydrant, a vacuum cleaner, a panini press, and the internal workings of a VCR. The monstrosity looks like the Everlasting Gobstopper machine in Willy Wonka. But I think it’s beautiful. Whenever people stop to ask me what I’m doing, I tell them I’m working on my next big mistake.
About the author:
Smelcer is the author of ten books of poetry, most recently including The Binghamton Poems, selected and edited by John Updike. His poems appear in hundreds of magazines.
August 20, 2010 Comments Off on J. P. Smelcer/Poetry
By Jonathan Evans
Twenty-Ten recently saw the nineteenth anniversary of the death of one of the most exciting and revolutionary musicians of the second half of the twentieth century. In the field of popular music, he’s right up there with The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley. Of the above, only Dylan, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr still survive. Sadly, Bob Marley is not among them. He died back in 1981, aged only thirty six — but perhaps the most interesting thing about him is the fact that he is way bigger now than when he died. His songs and message just keep on spreading and growing in stature. His music is still played massively all over the world, in Africa, Indonesia, India, the States and Europe; in Jamaica he has achieved god-like status and there are statues erected to him all over that island.
Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley (February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981) was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician. He was the leadsinger, songwriter and guitarist for the ska, rocksteady and reggae bands, The Wailers (1964–1974) and Bob Marley and the Wailers (1974–1981). Marley remains the most widely known and revered performer of reggae music, and is credited for helping spread both Jamaican reggae music and the Rastafarian religion to a worldwide audience.
Marley’s best known hits include “I Shot the Sheriff”, “No Woman, No Cry”, “Could You Be Loved”, “Stir It Up”, “Jammin”, “Redemption Song”, “One Love” and “Exodus”. The album Legend, released three years after his death, has sold more than twenty million copies across the world, and just keeps on selling.
Marley started out in Jamaica playing ska music in the Wailers with some local success, but signed with Island Records in 1974 and combined the Jamaican shuffle rhythm with a hot rock backing to virtually create what is now called reggae. Early on, Eric Clapton recorded a rather limp version of “I Shot the Sheriff” which focused public attention on Marley, who went on to record eleven albums during his short lifetime. He was a charismatic performer, his long dreadlocks swinging wildly as he sang, and I was lucky to hear him in concert several times. I’ll never forget seeing him perform at a huge bull-ring show in Ibiza, Spain, with a brilliant full-moon rising up over the rim of the arena as he came on stage to sing “Get up, Stand up” to an explosive roar from the crowd. I caught him again in London, and three times in New York. There, fearlessly posing as a High Times Magazine reporter at a press conference, I even met him once and got to talk with him and then hung out with his band, The Wailers, in the dressing room at the Apollo Theater in Harlem after the show. He was short and intense and it was hard not to be intimidated by his obvious power. For Bob Marley’s message was always a universal one, not only aimed at Whitey the oppressor, but aimed at oppression existing everywhere. When I first heard the song “Exodus” in 1977, an incredibly powerful track exhorting all people to leave Babylon and to go to a new Promised Land, I remember thinking that change was in the air. Marley combined a powerful Messianic message with a fabulous reggae disco beat surely, nothing could be the same again! I was naïve and mistaken of course — music might change the way people think but it doesn’t overthrow systems. The sixties demonstrated that clearly. But Marley planted the seeds of change where they had never existed before, and over the past two decades, his influence is felt more strongly than ever.
Rastafarianism, the fundamentalist, herb-smoking religion that he expounded, is still strong in Jamaica but its presence in more developed countries looks to be little more than a fad attitude. Dreadlocks and biblical platitudes cover a multitude of beliefs and sins, and these days, outside of parts of London, Africa and even India, it is hard to see expounders of this faith as more than making a fashion statement.
The music is something else though. As well as writing militant political songs, hedemonst rated over and over again his generous sensitivity by writing and recording some of music’s most impassioned and moving love songs. “No Woman, No Cry” and “Waiting in Vain” have outstanding melodies coupled with some of the most soulful and expressive lyrics and singing ever. For a period in the mid to late seventies, he seemed unstoppable to those of us who listened and cared. He exemplified the voice of the Third World underdog and had enormous critical and commercial success. But life caught up with him quickly; he developed a melanoma that killed him just as he hit his prime.
Since Marley’s death, there have been many other reggae stars but none have reached out to cross borders, races and cultures in the way that he did. He sang to all people and addressed issues which affect us all and still show no sign of being resolved. As Bob Marley’s message is spread further and further worldwide, there will come a time when his words cannot be ignored. People must never be judged by their color as they still are all over the world (think about it — how crazy and evil that is!) and one day, a world of equality based on love and mutual respect will surely prevail. His sons and daughters are all musicians with greater or lesser success, and although none of them have his original vision, his philosophy is still getting out there through them.
“— Until the philosophy which hold one race
Superior and another inferior
Is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned
Everywhere is war, me say war
That until there are no longer first class
And second class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man’s skin
Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes
Me say war
That until the basic human rights are equally
Guaranteed to all, without regard to race
Dis a war
That until that day
The dream of lasting peace, world citizenship
Rule of international morality
Will remain in but a fleeting illusion
To be pursued, but never attained
Now everywhere is war, war —”
(Bob Marley- ‘War’)
August 20, 2010 Comments Off on Bob Marley/Retro
As our readership is continuing to develop, here is a piece from San Miguel Allende, Mexico, that was forwarded in the context of my last article on Cuba. It’s not exactly a politically based article, but it does represent some of the substance of the Cuban culture, and I trust you’ll find it interesting, as did I. The piece is followed by a bit of prose-poetry that I did, which seemed to capture a bit of the varying social and political landscape of the country. The article originally appeared in the newspaper Atencion San Miguel.
— Jim Palombo, Politics Editor
Out of Cuba, 2007
By Lou Christine
The consensus is that the one-time architectural marvel called Havana is a decaying city coming apart at the seams. Havana is hot and humid. The place is a bit pricey and there’s hardly anything to buy. The food’s insipid but the music’s spicy. And the women do live up to their erotic reputation! From my perspective, after spending five days in Havana, all the above rings true. Yet my slant here is strictly a thumbnail sketch of Havana, and can’t be compared to the whole of the nation and its people.
The economic effects from the 40-some-year, U.S. embargo and Soviet pull out have both isolated and reduced Cuba into an impoverished existence. Havana’s past splendor is apparent, as is its present anemic condition. One could bray, “What the hell happened here? Who’s in charge?” Putting those negative aspects aside it’s the Cuban people and their unique spirit that makes the place fascinating.
I skipped the government provided tourist hotels deciding to rent a second-floor apartment (casa particular) in a run-down barrio of old Havana. The neighborhood could be compared to tenement sections of the South Bronx. Despite the rough surroundings I found Cubans friendly, accommodating and hospitable. Hardly anyone seemed serious, if anything most acted sophomoric other than the downtrodden that have been crushed by the system or bad fortune.
My landlords were Jesus and his wife Dora. The apartment wasn’t spiffy yet clean with essentials. The affable couple had me feeling welcome and comfortable as I began to experience a slice of life in old Havana. For some reason they both called me Louie.
“Louie! Louie!” was shouted by a voice in my direction as I bopped down the block the following day. It was Jesus. In Latino fashion he hand signaled me to hold up. Catching up he latched onto my elbow only saying another Louie while leading me into the back patio of a dingy bar. The TV blared. Some Cuban pretty boy was up on the screen singing his heart out. Jesus ordered two cold cans of Crystal and got down to business.
Jesus said, “Louie,” two more times. We were up to five Louies and I still didn’t know what was on his mind. Evidently, the night before, I mentioned an affinity for baseball when Jesus clicked on the apartment’s TV with a game in progress. Sipping his beer and moving his hands in a certain way, Jesus began to paint a vivid picture. It was in 1951, Yankee Stadium, the top of the ninth and the great, Boston Red Sock, Ted Williams, was at bat. The Yanks were ahead by a run, with one out, and a runner on third. Jesus’ uncle had promised the then nine-year-old a trip NYC. to see a big-league game and his favorite player, Yankee, Joe DiMaggio.
Jesus paused his story to elaborate how he revered DiMaggio and how jolting Joe was “El Mejor!” After the brief DiMaggio eulogy Jesus continued telling me how he was seated in the left-center-field bleachers. Williams launched a screaming line drive seemingly out of centerfielder DiMaggio’s reach, yet the Yankee Clipper got a good jump on the ball and made a spectacular run-saving catch. Jesus became more animated describing how the Red Sox runner on third tagged up and began to race home to tie the game. Gracefully, according to Jesus, DiMaggio maintained his wherewithal, retrieved the ball from his mitt, and rifled a bullet toward Yogi Berra, the Yankee catcher, to make the tag out and to win the game! Jesus then just slowly nodded his head and looked away for the moment as he savored the past.
Those are the indelible, first-hand memories the Cuban has of his hero, Yankee Stadium and his beloved baseball. Then Jesus extended his chest somewhat telling me how he went on to become a hard throwing pitcher and a pro prospect, saying he threw a number of no hitters. In 1958 he signed a $5,000 minor league contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers but all changed with the revolution and his dream to become a big leaguer died.
From the looks of things, in present day Havana, many dreams died back in 1959. I am not qualified to judge if Uncle Fidel’s system is a travesty of justice, or a continuous-and-challenging socialist experiment with a severe case of spinning wheels disease. On the surface things don’t look all that prosperous. Yet discounting the obvious pitfalls, when ferreting a bit deeper, there’s something striking about the place.
Up to the point with Jesus I was having a love-hate relationship with the city. I almost wanted to leave after fifteen minutes. There were waiting lines at immigration and customs and longer lines for everything else. But regardless I could also sense there’s a special feeling, being in the mix with the multi-racial Cuban people that had me feeling so alive!
In Jesus’ case, most of our conversations covered the golden age of baseball. He doesn’t think much of today’s big leaguers. We searched our brains making a list Major-League 500 home-run hitters, those with 3000-hits and 300-game winners over their careers. Once back home I checked. Jesus and I nailed about 90% of the 60-some baseball playing icons. I seemed to be the called-for soundboard to talk the about the sport we both love.
I was living mostly a one-block existence. Fellow sanmiguelense, Jeffery Brown, was my neighbor. We shared shots of Vodka with some men, out of the trunk of a ‘54 Plymouth resting on its axles. There was Yasser, mid-twenties, strong and handsome. He inquired about gyms and weight-lifting equipment in the States. He hates his name. Seems he was born on the day Yasser Arafat visited Cuba and therefore stuck with the moniker. One of the men, Manuel, Jesus’ brother-in-law wanted to know about present day cars. He frowned some when I told him today’s autos are all about computers and that back yard tune-ups are out of the question. He and his cronies were then installing a clutch into a ‘49 Hudson. The men had us feeling at ease and the Vodka helped. We took more swigs and posed for buddy-buddy photos. I asked about the Soviet influence. Were they still around? Manuel said the Russians never really fit in, that they built decent roads but ugly buildings, along with bad running cars, motorcycles and tractors, then the Ruskies left them in a lurch. All and all the men agreed that the Russians presence meant little one way or another, other than the introduction of Vodka.
After a day and a half “Louie! Louie!” peppered my ears from various directions each time I took to the street. I smiled. They smiled back. Take in part, it’s their block, and residents on such close-quartered blocks don’t miss a blink. Ironically I was residing on Calle San Miguel, the length of your average street here in San Miguel. The row homes were three-storied, with six-to-eight apartments in each. Most were occupied with Havanans, yet I observed tourists with luggage exiting taxis then disappearing behind doors.
To appreciate Cuba one has to seek out the silver linings from what seems like a hopeless situation. The system offers Cubans little incentive, so goes a desire to upkeep buildings and infrastructure. The streets are teeming with life 24/7. That memorable, far-out alien bar depicted in the film Star Wars seems pale compared to the outlandish street scenes in Havana. There’s big-time stoop life primarily because of the stifling heat and humidity; kids play baseball and grab ass using home-made baseballs fashioned from rolled up white tape and broom sticks and sticks of all kinds are swung bats. A parked, banged up ‘55 Chevy might be first base, and broken manhole cover second, a curbside third, while home plate might be a cutout portion of a cardboard box. Some kids just play catch or handball. With the ’50ish cars and street baseball alike, boyhood memories flashed in my mind’s eye. I could have been any one of those kids. I saw some sun-baked basketball courts, mostly deserted, marred with potholes and lopsided backboards, minus baskets. Kids played soccer with makeshift balls and even tin cans.
The plethora of street scenes are both poignant and heart breaking; men get haircuts in the street, transmissions from vintage American cars, now jalopies, are yanked out with brute strength and then jury-rigged as to get them back on the road. The shelves of the few available tiendas are bare, except for nine or ten items; people look disheveled and beat, except for the exquisite smiles they dole out toward neighbor and stranger alike; the pulsating beat of Latin music pours out of barred windows and open doorways. One day I went out to the avenue and bought eight pork sandwiches. Problem number one: The sandwich maker didn’t have a bag. I think I’m resourceful and tried to buy a bag but didn’t possess the right currency, but a kind lady gave me one. Then I was in search for mayonnaise or mustard. I would have been better off seeking out the Holy Grail. None was to be found, but low and behold in the basement of a foreign investment market I found mayonnaise. Voila! But didn’t you know the computerized cash register system crashed and there would be no more sales that day, mmmmm, dried pork sandwiches.
Tourists are forced to buy a currency called CUC. It’s a government sponsored rip off regardless if cashing dollars, Mexican pesos or Euros. Ten to fifteen percent comes off the posted exchange. You’re getting a Cuban CUC for about a dollar-thirty. Prices in tourist joints are more expensive than here and food wise it’s mostly lousy, ill prepared with inferior ingredients. I ordered Chow Mein in a Chinese restaurant, only thing there were no noodles.
As earlier noted, countless old Fords, Chevy’s, Hudson’s and Studebakers rumble along Cuban boulevards as rusted hulks held together by who knows what? The state of public transportation is atrocious. People are crammed tight into deteriorating buses with no room for their guardian angel. With the heat, sweat and mass of humanity one can only gasp and say, “but for the grace of God.” Taxis are too expensive for most except for community cabs that are packed to full capacity, dropping some off and taking on others. Many hitch hike, standing in droves, off sidewalks, waving down anyone who might pick them up. As the pecking order goes the young and better looking chance to hitch a ride rather than the elderly or decrepit.
The men are forward and the women receptive. I eyeballed mostly women whose dress is alluring and enticing, dolled up in some tawdry chic that beckons with the hotties featuring enticing curves and plunging necklines, primarily, because in reality, that is all they have to show for themselves. In most other places chicks wiggling their behinds in such a way while planted in exaggerated high-heels and wearing short-shorts would be perceived more like cheap strumpets. Inside Havana that look is hardly out of the ordinary. The men’s dress on the most part was shabby and wrinkled. I suppose in the men’s case their well-defined bodies do the talking.
Love or lust is constantly in the air. Even the most unsightly tourist, fat, bald or snaggle-toothed can be seen as a desirable Romeo, that’s of course if he has fresh money in his pocket. That easy availability of women mostly arises out of hunger and need. Cuban women do show case a certain one-of-a-kind sensuality that seems inbred. Such overt actions later on might place a few extra staples on the family table. Horny men attracted to such vivacious women might just shrug their shoulders and sum, “When in Rome…” or those with conscious may ask themselves if they are taking advantage of an undeniable female commodity or participating in some sort of lurid exploitation? I don’t have the answers.
Under the surface breathes an oppressive state. Jesus warned me there are street-corner snitches and police everywhere. A woman just sharing a taxi or walking down the street with a foreigner can be whisked away by the police for doing either. Often consequences have females spending a couple of months in the slammer and a mark on her record to boot. Girls constantly talk and worry about the police.
The government is well aware of the prostitution yet for the hooker in Havana it’s a Catch-22 situation. They have to be tricky to procure tricks. Cuban women of any profession are discouraged from frequenting with tourists other than in the daytime in public places. Only female employees are allowed in hotels. Yet just outside on sidewalks of some tourist, oriented, boom-boom establishments, sanctioned by the government, the girls gather in bouquets and are permitted to enter if accompanied by a tourist. Then it seems the government turns a blind eye that makes the whole man-woman thing seem ambiguous at most. Many, in actuality, are not professional streetwalkers but country girls merely in search of a meal, some drinks, a nice time and pocket money. Yet the pocket money they receive for their charms often equals a month’s pay. For men, reciprocated affection offered by women is almost automatic; “You were nice to me so now I’ll be nice to you.”
Cuba does hold claim to the world’s lowest AIDS rate. Reason being: Random HIV tests. At first people infected with HIV were whisked off to a sanitarium, for life. In 1998, the government permitted patients who have been properly indoctrinated and treated to return home but under a state of house arrest.
Many young gals from the countryside apply and anxiously wait for coveted visas permitting them to stay in Havana up to two or three months. They apply for the get-away visas under the guise of schooling or to visit relatives. Yet on the most part, probably because of the wireless coconut, they know Havana has brighter lights and a slew of generous men from around the world who seek female company — their possible escape. Cubans do not have access to the Internet’s super highway. They can e-mail and telephone but are kept much in the dark about what is taking place in the outside world. They see only what the regime wants them to see, period!
I queried some about their impression of foreign men and men in general. My sampling had some of the gals telling me they don’t like Italian men, especially those from the south. Women, even streetwalkers, have their dignity and the girls said Italian tourists were rude and presumptuous in a place where being presumptuous is a gimme. The French, Greeks and Spanish, in their view, act stodgy and above them. German and Scandinavian are said to be polite yet distant. When I asked about Mexicans or other Latinos the girls pointed to their elbows and patted them with their other hand, a sign that indicates cheapskates. “And they lie,” said Magalia, saying how they promise marriage faster than the rest. She likes American men, primarily because they are generous but they are loud and brag too much. As for Cuban men, Magalia made a face and extended her open hand and counted off her fingers one by one emphatically, “Uno, dos, tres, quatro novias, siempre… ellos el pejor!”
During multiple conversations with Havanans the men were more restrained about Cuba’s situation and I refrained from pushing the subject. Men of age wanted to speak about glory of the past. Taxi drivers openly spoke about long hours but the money was great. Only one cabbie tried to sell me that Cuba is a wonderful place where everybody is equal and it’s only getting better. There are devilish billboards showing Bush and Hitler as equals. Posted images of Che are everywhere yet there aren’t many images of Castro. Women looked to the future and were more expressive about the state of things. “Get me out of here!” shouted out from within them.
“Everybody’s afraid of the police,” one women told me in a low voice inside a tourist restaurant as two cruised outside. “They make us go to rallies.” For bigger rallies thousands are bussed in from the countryside with a 48-hour pass to stay and party in the capital city but only after attending a mandatory rally. “We cheer real loud, because if we make the government happy maybe they will cut short the rally and we can go party.”
I find it ironic that the Marx’s and Engle’s utopia of socialism has failed worldwide and today that sort of none functioning lifestyle hardly survives other than in a few bastions of repression like Cuba. I find it just as amazing that a taxi driver or tour guide can make ten times the money compared to the government stipend trickled down to a trained doctor, engineer or scientist. The general population is rationed some rice, beans and few other staples on a monthly basis that lasts no longer than a week. That’s the reality of life in today’s Cuba.
Then, in spite of the failed dream, there is the elite who enjoy the status of privilege due to government appointed professions and housing. Cuba claims to have a 100% literacy rate and free medical for all. Cubans expressed to me that the bureaucratic hoops they have to jump through for health care isn’t worth the hassle unless there is an absolute emergency. Havana’s embassy row is as stately as it gets, where upscale embassies bask along side botanical finery while facing a wide, sparkling thoroughfare.
Hotel Nacional is a first class hotel. Its staff is bilingual and sharp. Black, sleek, Mercedes’ taxis wait outside for tourists or big wigs in the government. Yet the gal tending the bar yakked on the phone and finished her smoke before waiting on us. There are a few square blocks, surrounding the capitol, impressively restored and pristine. Hotel Raquel glistens with marble floors and columns’ indicating a regentrification is in vogue yet out of the reach for the average Cuban. The Museum of the Revolution and Art Museum are well cared for as are a few other buildings and cathedrals in the vicinity. That’s about it.
Maybe I should have done more clubbing or drank where Hemingway once did, or maybe I should have delved more into the artsy social scene and ate at trendy tourist traps or rode around in a horse drawn carriage. Maybe next time. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the music. One has to be dead to not appreciate the hot Latin tunes along with the enticing lyrics and tight rumba rhythms. That part of Cuba’s soul can never be replaced or squashed by a warped system. It’s their national treasure. When Cubans play or sing music they appear as free as birds. But when I peer into the tired and worn down faces of Jesus, Dora and the all the others who have been denied the advancements of modern society, regardless of Capitalism’s own pitfalls, I can’t help but think about Cuba’s once glorious past, minus Batista, and what would have occurred if Cuba wasn’t so abused and neglected.
Perhaps my mind-set parallel’s Jesus’ the same way he pooh-poohed today’s spoiled and pampered Major League baseball players who he doesn’t think that much of. Just as Jesus wonders about what happened to his beloved baseball, I wonder about what happened to the first city of the new world which might have us both asking, “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?”
* * *
Flat, spread into being
Two dimensional, cut-up, cut across
Turning inward, turning away
Poorness without poverty’s soul
Tearing a smile
Darkly lit canvas
For all to see
August 20, 2010 Comments Off on Cuba/Politics
“Well, you’re all set,” she says. “Would you like to keep your finger?”
The nurse stands beside a garbage can, holding her coffee in one hand, and my crushed finger in the other. She places both down on the countertop, opens my chart, and makes a note. She passes off the file to another nurse, and checks that the jar, which holds my finger, is sealed. Then, she turns to me.
I look down at my hand, which is swollen and wrapped in layers of gauze. I shift my weight in the bed; then pause, and hope it won’t collapse beneath me.
“Sometimes people want to keep them,” the nurse explains as she dangles the container. “Women who get mastectomies… sometimes they like to keep their breasts.” She pauses, waiting for my response, as I consider what it might be like to keep an amputated breast in a jar on a shelf in my home.
“No,” I reply. “I don’t want to keep it.”
The nurse nods and turns towards the garbage can, swinging my finger’s jar between her own fingers. The patient who was treated in this room before me, whose fingers were ravaged by a snow blower, left the hospital empty handed. I wonder if the amputated parts of his fingers are in this same garbage can. I imagine them floating in their own container as my finger’s jar falls next to them. I wonder if they will connect somehow, as if they are fish in two separate tanks, gazing with awe at the other.
“Wait-“ I begin, my voice shaking. “Can I see it first?”
“Sure!” She exclaims, and smiles. I shake the sheets from my shoulders, and sit up in the bed. She places the jar down in front of me. I cradle it between my surviving fingertips, and peer inside.
I hadn’t planned for this to happen. I expected to spend this Wednesday as I did every other Wednesday this semester: three classes, two meetings, and tired. It was the middle of another hectic week, another round of Biology labs I tried to like, but didn’t; another round of meetings and activities that drew too much energy for me to actually enjoy. My calendar dictated my every moment, and Wednesdays were the pinnacle of my scheduling obsession. It was the busiest, most draining day. I didn’t live on Wednesdays. On Wednesdays, I was a machine.
We tend to feed machines selfishly. I’ve come to this conclusion now. We eat, sleep, speak, and give enough to keep the machine moving, to keep it producing. We’ve learned how to program ourselves. Some mornings, too rushed to prepare and enjoy a real breakfast, I’d pack two granola bars with my schoolbooks. When my stomach grumbled, I’d eat one – not to enjoy it, but to quiet the awkward roar inside. If it wasn’t for the noise, I may have just waited for lunch, whenever I found time for it.
On this Wednesday, I woke up and began to neglect myself. I got five hours of sleep and skipped breakfast. It seemed to be the start of a normal Wednesday, until I looked outside.
Snowstorms were a blessing in childhood, and college hadn’t changed that. Snow, like Disney World, seems to make childhood come alive again, no matter how old you are. On this Wednesday, I didn’t want to plan, to study, to rush. I wanted to play.
When we found out that classes had been canceled, my friends and I jumped and screamed — and decided to go tray sledding. After lunch, we snuck our trays out of the dining hall, and went back to our rooms to change. I slid into my ski pants, draped a scarf around my neck, pulled a hat over my head, and zipped up my jacket. Last, I pulled out my gloves, those not-every-day gloves that I used for shoveling the driveway, cleaning my car, and playing in the snow. They were durable, and warm.
On my way out, I caught my reflection in the mirror. I was so bundled up, nearly every inch of skin covered. I wondered if my thighs – which were covered by both sweatpants and ski pants – would fit on the dining hall trays we had stolen at lunch. I reasoned that, if they didn’t, I would just roll down the hill. At least my butt would be warm.
I moved closer to the mirror, and examined my face. With my right index finger, I traced the deep circles beneath my eyes, the constant reminders of my self-neglect. I touched my palms together, let my fingers fall between the empty spaces, and squeezed. I always did this when things felt out of control. It reminded me that I could keep myself together. Maybe I could manage an extra hour of sleep tonight, I thought. I knew I needed it. Almost immediately, though, I changed my mind. I remembered I had a paper due on Friday, and wouldn’t have enough time on Thursday to finish it. I turned away from the mirror. I’ll have fun with my friends, I reasoned. I’ll meet them outside, stay for twenty minutes. And then I’ll get back to work.
I met my friends outside, in a hill adjacent to our building. Instantly, I felt the familiar rush of frost. Snowflakes peppered my face and I stuck out my tongue to catch them. I tried just one more time to touch the tip of my nose with my tongue, my childish ambition. No luck. We spotted friends at the top of the hill, who yelled down at us to join them. As we raced up the icy hill, I slipped. I don’t know why I looked behind me, but when I did, I saw a pile of broken trays, with splinters of plastic spewed across the snow.
At the top of the hill, we met up with a large group of other friends who lived nearby. We tossed snowballs at each other and posed for a picture. In the photo, we hold up our trays and smile, our cheeks flushed red from the cold.
We wandered around for a while, trying to find a hill with the right incline, the right amount of snow, the right conditions for a perfect, joyful ride.
“Hey, over there!” Some guy shouted at us, dragging his snow-filled tray behind him. He pointed. “That hill there, it’s insane. You gotta try it! We must’ve gone down a dozen times.”
Emily, Liz and I looked at each other, and shrugged. We were up for anything.
“Sure!” I said, “Thanks!” And we followed him to the hill.
I went down with Emily first. I glided across the snow, my tray spitting frost all around me. I screamed and laughed, and Emily did too. When we landed at the bottom, we said, unanimously:
“That was awesome! Let’s go again!”
And we did.
This time, we got Liz to join us. She was worried that it was unsafe but, since I had already gone down, I assured her that it was fine.
“Don’t worry! It’s so much fun!” I said, placing my tray at the top of the hill. I sat down on it, and looked up at her. “C’mon Liz, join us! Let’s all go down together.”
Reluctantly, nervously, she placed her tray next to mine.
“I promise you’ll be fine,” I said, as we crept closer to the edge, and prepared to kick off. “You’re gonna love it!”
And with that, we fell.
I was falling, laughing, falling, screaming, falling, until suddenly… I felt it. A tiny snap. Almost unnoticeable, almost unimportant. When the tray settled at the bottom of the hill, I almost didn’t look. I almost picked up my tray for another run. But I didn’t. I looked.
I slid off my glove, and saw blood. It wasn’t until this moment, after I landed at the bottom of the hill, brushed the snow from my knees, and caught my breath, that I realized my finger (or at least a part of it) was gone. My bone stuck outwards like the steel of a collapsed building. Blood, which dribbled through my leather glove, was everyplace where skin was supposed to be.
Everything around me – every voice and sensation—fermented into one thick, snowy haze. I heard Emily and Liz laugh, then quiet as they looked towards me, and realized. I gasped and dropped my glove, my finger still inside.
“Marissa? Marissa are you OK?” Emily asked. She hadn’t seen my skinless, nail-less, crumbled finger, or the part that still hid in my glove. I could barely comprehend, even less articulate, what my hand looked like. I wanted to scream no, wanted to cry, wanted to take back the last moment and fix myself. But I could do none of that. I especially couldn’t scream.
My knees shaking, I stood up. I stepped over my glove, lifted my boots from the thick snow, and ran inside.
I stumbled through the doors, up the stairs, and to the door to my room. Fingers trembling, right hand growing numb, I tried to find my door key, but couldn’t latch my left fingers onto it. I dropped everything – my wallet, keys, and hat — front of my door, and ran. Downstairs bathroom… Sink.
I looked behind myself, and saw a trail of blood. For a brief moment, I considered that I might be bleeding to death. I rushed down the stairs and fell to the bathroom floor, my knees and calves against the cool tiles, my right hand extended over the sink, dripping.
Liz and Emily caught up to me, and I heard Liz yelling into the phone:
“Her finger its…. It got cut off!” She says. “We need an ambulance. She needs to go to the hospital!”
I rested my head on the cool porcelain. Ignoring everything around me, I focused on my breathing, and whispered aloud to myself: I’m gonna be OK, it’s all gonna be OK…
“I don’t know how much, but there’s blood everywhere and…”
I’m not looking at my finger… I’m OK… I’m going to be fine…
She came into the bathroom. “Marissa,” she said delicately, “Did you wrap your finger in something?”
Breathe in… Breathe out…
“No,” I whimpered, “I can’t…”
Breathe in… Breathe out…
“I’ll get you a towel. I’ll be right back, OK?”
Fine… I’m going to be fine… In… Out…
My mother always said that the body is sacred.
“I’m not smart enough to make my own rules, so I follow the bible,” she’d shout over the kitchen sink, as she scraped ketchup and peanut butter off a plate and forced it into the dishwasher. “We don’t desecrate the body. God made us this way. That’s it.”
She told me this when I was fifteen, and wanted to color my hair.
“The body is sacred. Judaism is against desecrating the body. Plus you can’t put chemicals right on your scalp. You’ll get cancer. You’ll die. Right, Howie?”
My dad opens his eyes halfway, then closes them again.
“Yea…” He mutters, drifting back to sleep.
“But my friends all have pretty highlights. I just have this black mop.”
“Well they’re stupid, they’re all going to get cancer,” she says, as she adjusts her blanket to cover her body. She asks my dad to pass her the remote. He opens his eyes, passes her the remote, and closes them again. “When you’re on your own, you can color your hair. Then you won’t be under our insurance. But for now, every mistake you make we have to pay for.”
When I lost my fingertip, I wondered if my body has lost its holiness. I wondered if I was still sacred.
Emily called my parents from the emergency room. Initially, they thought she was joking. I reassured my parents, later, that I would never joke about amputating my body. I told my mother this as she reminded me, not so subtly, that the body is sacred. My parents were billed for the amputation.
Before my amputation, I seldom associated myself with my body. My personality – my likes, dislikes, fears, experiences — that was me. My skin was just a coffin that restrained me. I knew the body was important (I couldn’t live without it, after all), but I had only superficial expectations of it. In my hometown, the body was a reflection of wealth, of ideals of beauty that I never desired to emulate. I remember sixteen-year-old girls who got liposuction, and various other cosmetic surgeries.
As I grew older, hit that cherished 18th birthday and began making some of my own choices, I realized that the body could be a means of expression. The body is your easel, I thought. I got piercings, dyed my hair, and began to dress in a way that expressed my creative self. I began to see the physical as an expression of the emotional. The physical on its own, however, I didn’t care so much about. Sure, the body was sacred, but more importantly, it was mine. And I could use it and do with it what I pleased.
My ex-boyfriend, Jason, stood by the front door. Liz had run into him upstairs, and asked him to watch for the ambulance. He leaned alone against the door, his back arched awkwardly, his left fingers wrapped around his right wrist. He turned to look at me, but said nothing. Our eyes met for a moment as my friends rushed around me, until he turned to look outside again, and I turned to face the wall.
As people gathered around me—my friends, my roommates, my boss— all I heard was Liz’s voice, shaky, but assured, directing the action; all I saw was the thick opening in my skin, and the blood flowing from my finger to the floor.
I stumbled into a cluster of couches near the main hallway, collapsed into the cushions, and wept. As my blood rushed from my right hand, I twisted my neck away and rested my head on my left shoulder. My heart pounded, and my head felt light. Alone in this tiny alcove, away from the chaos of the hallway, I could hear my inner voice again. I dropped my forehead to my knees, and sighed in relief. As long as I could hear my own voice, I knew I was still OK.
I coached my breathing until the paramedics led me outside, when my pulse returned to normal, and I was sure I wouldn’t faint.
I didn’t learn until later that after I left in the ambulance, and my friends left to meet me at the hospital, Jason picked up Lysol and a towel, and cleaned my blood off the floor.
Jason lived next door to me freshman year. We had many common friends, and a similar sense of humor. When we felt a mutual interest in one another, we called ourselves a couple. But Jason and I were both insecure about dating and, eventually, became uncomfortable around each other. Whenever Jason leaned forward, trying to kiss me, I turned my face to the side, and leaned my chin down. I didn’t want to kiss him. Jason was white and Jewish — exactly the type of guy my parents expected me to date, the type of guy I once imagined myself with. He was smart, quirky, kind. Still, I couldn’t connect with him.
After three months, I ended our relationship. We tried, uncomfortably, to be friends. In the months before I lost my finger, we smiled an awkward, obligatory smile at each other, in passing. When he knelt on the floor and washed away my blood, we hadn’t had a conversation, or any true connection, in nearly a year.
My friend Jamie stayed with me in the room during the surgery. She looked on as the doctor took skin from another part of my hand, and sewed it onto the skinless parts of my finger. He was thoughtful and kind, with a strange accent I struggled to understand. As he stitched the two skins together, and bandaged my hand, I discussed the benefits of this situation:
“Well, I now have a fabulous topic for my memoir class,” I said, in between wincing from the pain.
“’Every cloud has a silver lining, right?’” I continued. “And there are a ton of clouds in Binghamton.”
The surgeon finished, wrote me a prescription for Vicodin and antibiotics, warned me about yeast infections, and left me with the nurse.
Inside the cool glass, my fingertip floats among melted ice chips. I wasn’t sure what I would see when I looked inside, but I somewhat expect to see an ordinary fingertip: nail intact, skin a likely peach. But, floating in the container, it looks more like a mutilated fish than a human fingertip. Its edges, my skin, flare outwards like fins. It had lost its rosy pigment; instead, it is a deathly alabaster, floating among the ice chips meant to preserve it. With a casual smile, I pass the jar back to the nurse. Inside, I am crying.
For the first few days, I anchor myself to my bedroom. I pile thick blankets over my body and lay there, quiet and still. Each night I grab two pills from my bedside table and swallow them, sucking down a gulp of water. One night, in the hallway outside my door, some guys bounce a ball. At one point, it smacks against my door, shaking my walls. I hug my blankets and dig my head into the pillow as deep as it can go. I hold my bandaged hand close to my chest, and fall asleep that way.
Initially, I can barely look at it. My entire finger, even the healthy parts, is wrapped in several layers of gauze. Still, small droplets of blood soak through the thick dressing. It disgusts me. I shy away from mirrors and showers, afraid to see my eyes, afraid to see my skin. I believe that no matter what I do, with whatever force, I will fall apart. I believe I am no more durable than a paper doll.
I had seen what my body looked like underneath, and it terrified me.
I figured saying I was on Vicodin would lighten the mood. It’s hard to find a line to follow “I cut half my finger off,” but mind-altering drugs tend to be a crowd pleaser among college students. I was right. The admission of Vicodin eased the horrified look on people’s faces. It changed disgust to amusement in seconds, giving me the opportunity to laugh, and reassure people that I was OK. Acquaintances joked that they were jealous, remarked that it was “awesome” that I had them, that I was lucky.
“Vicodin?” They’d exclaim, after I said I lost my finger, and was taking Vicodin to manage the pain. “That’s awesome! Are you selling?”
“No!” I’d exclaim, embarrassed, as I sat on duty in the RA office. “I am not selling drugs,” I said.
One afternoon, while I was hanging out in my friends’ room, an acquaintance from the building knocked on the door, and asked if he could buy some pills from me.
“I’ve got this awful headache,” he whispered. “I tried Advil, and Tylenol, but nothing works. I need something stronger.”
I just stared at him. He seemed embarrassed, and retreated.
“Hey, I’m just kidding!” he exclaimed, chuckling as he fidgeted with his keys. “Forget about it! I’m just gonna… Head back to my room.” He moved away, then faced me again. “Don’t mention this, ok?”
I nodded and he walked away. But I knew, if I hadn’t needed those pills so desperately, I could have been a drug dealer.
Until I lost my finger, the most powerful pill I had ever taken was Tylenol. I soon realized that Vicodin was nothing like Tylenol. Vicodin lifted me from the ground, from my place of pain, but from my footing as well. It made me feel like an imitation flake in a snow globe, floating in random patterns, doing ballerina whirls in an artificial sky. Everything I knew — my balance, my shape, my hold on the world — disappeared. As I curled beneath my covers, fearing the winter outside, my mind floated like a snowflake.
Amidst the Vicodin haze, I started to relive my ride down the hill. I imagined what might have happened, what couldn’t have happened. I wondered what I was thinking about in the moment it happened.
Meanwhile, Liz, who rushed outside in the snow to gather my glove (which contained my severed fingertip) in the frantic moments before the ambulance came, was still shaken up. We sat down together in her and Emily’s room, and tried to piece together the events of the day before. She did most of the talking, as I laid, listening, on Emily’s bed.
“I was on your right side,” she said. “I might have run over it with my tray. I keep running the scene over in my mind, but I can’t remember if I did.”
I closed my eyes, and remembered. Remembered reassuring her, placing my tray on the top of the hill, looking up at her, urging her to come down with us. I remembered where she placed her tray – to the right of mine—and when we kicked off and fell. I remembered falling, laughing, screaming, falling, and maneuvering my tray to avoid a tree. I remembered the snap.
“Even if it was you,” I said finally, looking down at my bandaged hand. “It’s OK.”
I’d never know what was beneath the snow at those exact moments, or remember if Liz’s tray did, in fact, run over my hand. It didn’t matter how it happened. The important part was that it did.
A couple days later, I went to class. I forced myself from my bed, swallowed two Vicodin, pulled my arms through my coat, and walked outside in the snow. I left my room twenty minutes early for a class five minutes away. I tiptoed the entire way there.
Other students took notes and listened intently; I stared, desk empty, at the wall. When the student to my right leaned forward, then pulled her textbook from her backpack, I jumped.
What if she hits my finger?… Maybe it’s not stitched together… Will it break off again?
I left class and walked to the bathroom, needing to splash some cool water on my face. My finger hurt. I wanted more Vicodin. I would have abandoned class at that point, if it had not been for the professor who was teaching it. As much as I loved the class topic, I wasn’t present enough to enjoy it. Truly, I realized then, I just wanted to talk to him.
After class, after most students had shuffled out, I walked to the front of the room.
“Al?” I said to the professor, my eyes already filling. We left class together and walked outside.
“I’m sorry,” I said, after telling him my story. “It’s gross, I know.”
“You shouldn’t feel embarrassed,” he said. “You didn’t do anything wrong. It isn’t gross; don’t feel ashamed. People care about you, they want to help you. Let them.”
Later that night, I was eating dinner in the dining hall with a group of friends. One of them commented on my eloquent eating habits:
“You’re sticking your pinky out!” he said, pointing to the thick dressing, which forced my finger to stand erect, rather than fold with the rest of them.
We laughed and continued eating, as I sat up a bit taller in my seat.
Shortly after, a guy who lives nearby, Oliver, who is well-liked in the community, but also known to be obnoxiously inappropriate, walked over to our table. Oliver noticed my bandage and asked what happened. When I didn’t answer, someone else did:
“She cut off her finger,” someone said. “Cool, huh?”
This comment must have belittled him. Or, it encouraged him. Whatever it did, it somehow evoked his next remark:
“Well,” Oliver sneered, running his fingers through his shaggy blonde hair. “I still have all of my parts.”
For a moment, all was quiet. The people sitting around the table turned to look at me, and shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Finally, they chuckled a little, which eased the awkwardness. If it had been from someone more intelligent, the comment might have hurt. True, he was physically whole –minus a brain anyway– whereas I had lost a part. My hand was bandaged in a thick dressing, while his looked normal. I didn’t take the time to consider what he said, what it means to be “normal” — or to be whole.
Instead I shot back, “At least I’m emotionally whole,” to which the table burst into laughter, and Oliver shrugged and walked away.
Ok, not the best comeback, I thought, even as everyone laughed. I’m not emotionally whole, not yet. Is anyone?
People judge people. We do it loudly, and we do it all the time. It’s woven so deeply into our character that we’ve come to expect it. When people take us at face value — take what we tell them, and accept us, without judgment — we’re confused. We don’t know how to respond to acceptance.
I expected Al to be disgusted by my finger. When he wasn’t, something in me changed. Why was the image of a finger, crushed and severed, not disgusting? I had grown accustomed to laughing at my injury, not because I thought it was funny, but because it lessened the shock value. I laughed because it quieted other people. I joked because it made me feel normal.
But Al wasn’t disgusted. He was kind and sympathetic. He told me to reach out, to accept other people’s help, and not to accept blame. He told me that it was OK, and I realized that I didn’t have to be.
I wasn’t supposed to remove my bandage until my first appointment. But, it had gotten wet, and it was bloody and uncomfortable. And I just wanted to see what it looked like.
I tugged at the bandages and winced. My blood had soaked through them all, and crusted over. It glued the gauze together; I peeled it off slowly, removing a bandage from raw skin.
Finally, I freed my stump from the bandage, and turned to look at myself. My finger – my pinky—was swollen blue, the size of my thumb. I wondered for a moment if it might explode. Thick black stitches surrounded my new skin, a barricade between healthy and healing.
I stroked my finger the way a mother might caress her premature newborn: with just one finger, just one tip. It was too small, too delicate, to fully embrace. I feared hurting it, disturbing its sense of peace. I thought, you are torn and bloody. This wasn’t what you were supposed to be.
I traced the edges of my skin, the parts that hurt, and the parts that didn’t, and cried. I soaked a hand towel in warm water, lathered it with soap, and began to scrub. Delicately, I washed away the browned blood and yellow stains. When it was clean, I let it breathe for a while. When I felt I had loved it enough, I prepared fresh gauze, and bandaged it again.
Over the next several days, I started to have momentary sensations of tightness in my finger. It was a brief moment of intense pain, and then nothing. I began to imagine that this pain was my body stapling itself together. So, whenever I felt it, no matter how much it hurt, I smiled. I imagined that my body was healing.
Two weeks later, another storm coated Binghamton with snow. I retreated to the comfort of my bedroom, and watched the snow from my window. I attempted to fix my gaze on one flake, hoping to follow its journey as it floated to the ground. But the storm’s breeze tossed the flakes furiously. In one gust, it snatched dozens of them, forcing them in every direction, in mysterious shapes that my eyes couldn’t follow. It seemed there was some secret they all shared, some recipe in which each flake settled in just the right place, creating a smooth winter blanket on the ground. I tucked myself in my blankets, and settled into the cool sheets. I fell asleep to the screams of students outside, sledding.
I returned out to the hill where I lost my finger for the first time that week. I stood at the doorway, arms wrapped around each other, for a while. Slowly, carefully, I walked forward. I climbed over the channel of rocks, and made my way to the grass. I walked higher and higher on the hill, and then turned to face the building. I sat down on the grass, in the same place where I had reassured Liz, where we all had kicked off and started sliding. I sat down in that space, and cried.
One month later, I stood naked in the center of my room, surrounded by piles of stuff. My entire room was torn apart, every drawer opened and empty, my bare hangers in another pile on the floor. Item by item, I tried on all of my belongings. What fit, I kept. What didn’t, I donated. I picked up a sweater to try on, and walked over to my full-length mirror.
Before I pulled the sweater over my head, I caught an image of my body in the mirror. Curious, I moved closer to the glass. I hadn’t looked at myself, not really, since my accident. I hadn’t wanted to. When I thought of my body, I thought of blood.
I first noticed rolls. There was extra skin in places where there hadn’t been a month ago. I had gained weight, it was obvious; yet, for the past month, it hadn’t bothered me. I enjoyed feeling substantial, enjoyed squeezing the extra bits of my stomach and thighs. When I felt delicate, my flesh reminded me of my substance. It had made me feel whole.
But now, something had changed. I now viewed the extra weight as I did my unused clothing: as clutter. As unnecessary. I didn’t loathe the new weight, just as I didn’t loathe my unused clothes, but I knew I didn’t need it.
I laid down on my bed, and ran my fingers over my stomach. Immediately, I felt the cool steel of my belly-button piercing. For the last year, this hardened steel in my belly had reassured me. Friends were always surprised to learn that I had a belly-button piercing—done on a whim with Emily—and this excited me. I enjoyed touching it.
Now, as I unscrewed the tiny ball, and gently pulled the piercing from my skin, I felt a sense of loss. This piercing had become a part of me, a recognized bump, a familiar sensation. But after losing my finger, the thought of having a piece of steel stuck in my belly disgusted me. I gently laid my hand on my stomach, my newly-smooth skin, and smiled. It felt unfamiliar, but it felt right. I smiled. I placed the ball and piercing on my bedside table.
When I awoke the next morning, the jewelry was gone. Later that afternoon, I swept my floor. When I threw out the dust, I likely threw out my jewelry too. I don’t miss it.
I began dating someone new that spring. I hadn’t been looking for romance… Not at all. But some of the best gifts come as surprises, and our connection was a surprise to us both.
One night, Hemed knocked on my door, as planned, for our date. Before I opened the door, I removed my watch, and placed it down on my counter. My wrist felt free. I didn’t know where he was planning to take me, or when we’d be back, or anything. It made it more fun not to know. But, before we left, I had one place that I, as a surprise, wanted to take him.
“I want to show you something,” I said, taking his hand and leading him outside. We walked through the door – the door I had stumbled through, bleeding, three months earlier—and I smiled at him.
“This is my hill,” I said, extending my arm, as if unwrapping something. “This is where I lost my finger.”
I don’t believe in accidents. When people ask me about my finger, I blame “a sledding accident.” But I don’t believe my amputation was an accident. On that winter day, in that particular moment, the stones and ice and tray were placed just right, the wind propelling my body at the perfect angle, and my hand in just the right location, for my fingertip to be crushed. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but that doesn’t mean it was an accident.
There might be some magical force that pulls at us, or some spiritual being, or nothing. Maybe some accidents are a combination of factors: an uneven sidewalk, an icy road, a missed bus. Things happen. We don’t mean for them to happen, but they do. We break things. We mess up ourselves.
We stretched a blanket over the thick grass, and crawled down next to each other. We laid – backs down, bellies up — breathing. I noticed the tips of the trees and the stretch of black, and nothing else. I felt the bones in my back settle into the ground, as if the dirt beneath me had molded to my body. I felt as if nothing in the world could hurt me. I felt that I was floating.
“It might sound weird,” I said finally, leaning my body to look at him. “But it feels like I was reborn here.”
He nodded in understanding. “It’s amazing that you can feel so peaceful,” he said finally. “So peaceful in the place that hurt you.”
I smiled and took a deep breath, drawing my lungs full of the crisp night air. I closed my eyes and imagined that day, that moment, when my life changed. The day I lost a fingertip — one of the most sensitive human places — but began to live again. I thought about Hemed, and about Jason. I thought that I was never able to connect with Jason in the way I’ve now connected with Hemed.
I turned to look at him, and saw him writing on a rock — the only rock beside us on the hill. He finished, placed the pen down, and smiled at me. I looked over at the rock, and saw one word, written across the center of the rock, in thick bold ink, with a line drawn underneath:
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I know this is your hill, but that just felt right.”
“I love it,” I said. I took his hand, and held it tightly.
We laid there, hand in hand, on my hill. He runs his fingers along my palm, tracing the natural cracks in my skin. He taps each fingertip on my left hand, and makes his way to my right. Then, at my right pinky, he stops. His fingertip touches mine, and he holds it there.
“It’s so tender,” he says, stroking it. “It’s an amazing part of you.”
When our hands loosen and part, I reach for his arm. I run my fingers along the smooth underside, brushing just my pinky against his cool skin.
August 20, 2010 Comments Off on Marissa Fielstein/Creative Non Fiction
I’m in a stiff white dress. I’m attached, as only children can be, to my grandmother’s side. While the photo could have been taken anywhere, I know that it was taken at a party in Iran. It’s a Polaroid. If you look close you can see I’m not wearing appropriate shoes. The photo also fails to capture the brown aura around my grandmother. No one can see that but me.
My shoes were red leather sandals with yellow stitching that formed the pattern of a smiling apple on each foot. I stared at those apples a lot. Around them there was always sand and on my feet, always apples. On the TV there was “The Angry Man”. We were in Tehran just before the hostages were taken.
30 years later I am five years married. No surprise. I was bound to marry. I was a keeper of boyfriends. My first was a blonde in kindergarten who wanted to kiss me. I would only hold his hand. I turned him down when he offered to show me his noodle. Together we wore smocks for art class, held big fat yellow pencils and drank milk that tasted like band-aids.
I could go back there, back to childhood, have a kid and live through them. I could name it Sandy. It would be easy to get pregnant, to be off the pill with its daily dose of chemicals, hormones and control. Control, I can hear Janet singing that. I could sing it. Dance Nasty.
Even thought I haven’t had Control since I was Wonder Woman and wore my red and white boots that made me run faster. They matched everything. Linda Carter was God: that skin, those eyes. I’d give anything for more than brown eyes, brown hair. I’m full of it up to here; up even into my aura. That’d be progress, if I no longer saw everyone’s bright bursting spirit colors.
Progress isn’t this new treatment plan. It is not a trip to a three-walled room where the fourth is a mirror that even a child knows is the glass through which they watch You. But like participants on reality TV, you forget the Observers are there. You let it all hang out and even tell Them about what the shoes have to say. Then you have to list.
Catalog: that was Christmas. We’d open the JC Penny Gift Book to circle, tab and tear out pages for what we wanted. We’d get one of the many we marked along with piles of Christmas clothes which looked like what everyone else called Back to School clothes.
When I was twelve, I circled a pair of shoes, a pair of fuck-me pumps. They weren’t red. They were black and pointed with a low heel; they would have to be worn with panty hose. The good looking girls at school wore panty hose beneath their jumpers when it was cool out but not cool enough for jeans.
I wore those shoes with everything.
Wouldn’t it be easy for everyone if I could say that those pumps proved their name? What if I could say I had been fucked at twelve or thirteen? But no one fucked me. Not physically. No, I waited a long time to be literally screwed. I was very linear, chronological. Like college, then graduation, and onto marriage. Like time ticking away. Like my biological clock tock . . . tock. Where is my baby? Caught in the ellipses? It’ll get its little head stuck between those dots, or the slats of a crib. I won’t be there to save it because I’ll be here, getting high on prescriptions and sessions and tasteless excuses for yogurt and pudding. But what can taste good, anyway, when your mouth has the consistency of cotton?
If I had a little one it could wear all kinds of little baby shoes. Like the ones I used to sell. I loved to help kids try on tiny Nikes and ballerina slippers. My feet were small enough to fit into little boy boots and sneakers. You could save some cash that way but little kids shoes have no support.
Can’t I just stay here with the staff? I could just sit with a book and a note pad, in a room by myself because I’m tired of walking, of getting up to wash dishes, of bothering. But, I’m not suicidal no matter what my husband says. Downing a handful of aspirin isn’t suicide, it’s stupid. I’m not enough of one way or the other. I just wanted the bottle to be empty, done. I never regret walking to the recycle bin. The bin at home a red crate just waiting for my washed out bottles and cans. I can still smile like apples.
About the author:
Jessie Carty’s writing has appeared in The Main Street Rag, Iodine Poetry Journal and The Houston Literary Review. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks At the A & P Meridiem (Pudding House 2009) and The Wait of Atom (Folded Word 2009), as well as a full length poetry collection, Paper House (Folded Word 2010). Jessie is a freelance writer and writing coach. She is also the photographer and editor for Referential Magazine. She can be found around the web, especially at http://jessiecarty.com where she blogs about everything from housework to the act of blogging itself.
August 20, 2010 1 Comment
A Publication of Spool MFG
The Art & Recycling
Spool MFG is an independently owned and operated art space in Johnson City, New York, sponsored in large part by Don DeMauro, founder, artist and retired art professor from Binghamton University. The governing board is comprised of friends, many of whom are artists, with a common interest in achieving Spool’s stated goal: a commitment “to the existential, personal, social, and political dimensions of the contemporary moment.”
Spool is the namesake of the factory that occuped the building in which it is housed, “Spool & MFG”, but the ampersand had been dropped somewhere along the way. The publication, ampersand, puts it back into play in a somewhat esoteric fashion.
Much more than the usual bound version of a poetry chapbook, ampersand is a collection of poetry and visual art printed, drawn and written on the pages of invoices, bills, advertisements, checks, ledger sheets, folders, binders and every other kind of suitable surface found in files that had not seen light for 40 or 50 years since the building shut down as an industrial site.
The images that follow are pages from the book, some printed on the back side of ledgers, others drawn or painted on the front. A number of the edition of 50 will be distributed among the contributors, and the remainder will be sold. Each copy contains original hand-made entries, thus assuring that each ‘book’ is one-of-a-kind.
(for a larger view, click on images)
Page 2: Mission Statement/Don DeMauro
Page 6: Description/Alisa Strassner
Page 7: Cyanotype/Miles McNulty
Page 9: David Chirico
Page 14: Don DeMauro
Page 22: Andy Stevens
August 20, 2010 Comments Off on Ampersand/Art
Wait, Wasn’t That
My Substantially Similar Idea?
by Mark Levy and Shaun R. Vavra
Enforcement of copyright rights is a sensitive subject. Copyright infringement is the act of violating a copyright holder’s exclusive rights granted by the federal Copyright Act, and is nothing short of theft. The Supreme Court recognizes copying as “that which comes so near the original as to give every person seeing it the idea created by the original.” The severity of the subject is indicated by the fact that an infringer could be fined from $200 (unintentional infringement) to $150,000 (willful infringement) per act of infringement, or even by a jail sentence.
Infringement is dependent on three components: the holder must have an active or enforceable (registered) copyright, the alleged violator must have access to the copyrighted material, and the duplication must be “substantially similar” to the copyrighted material. Copyright infringement relies heavily on these three prerequisites, with the absence of only one stultifying the infringement process.
As you would most likely assume, the presence of these characteristics is subject to perpetual argument. It is hence the responsibility of the civil or criminal court to organize this mess and to define what is indeed infringement. With this thought in mind, what exactly does the court deem copyright infringement, and what exactly constitutes substantial similarity? The answers to these questions vary vastly from court to court.
The federal Copyright Act establishes the grounds for copyright protection. As the initial creator of a work, you are granted the privilege of the first owner. For a copyright to be valid you must reduce your aforementioned work to a tangible medium like paper, canvas, clay, marble, CD, or DVD. In the United States, copyright attaches automatically upon conception of a work and registration is not necessary, although you should register your work in the U.S. Copyright Office if you wish to sue an infringer.
You can usually prove presence of the information or “access” easily. Presence of the information requires that the copyright infringer of your copyrighted material had access to the material before he copied it. Courts typically will revert to a question of public access to prove presence of the information. For instance, was your copyrighted material displayed on YouTube or at an art gallery, or was it stowed away in your basement? A court ruled in O’Keefe v. Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Inc. that although the copyrighted work, the tagline “My card. My work,” was posted on the Internet, the copyright holder failed to prove the defendant had reasonable opportunity to view the work. Therefore, the infringement claim was dismissed. From this you can see that an opportunity to view the work is not always the same as open display.
Substantial similarity is the standard used to determine the level of similarity between two materials. The first rule of substantial similarity is there are no rules. There is no quantitative method to decide whether a duplicate is substantially similar to your copyrighted material. This is arguably the grayest area of the criteria for infringement, and the topic on which most courts vary. Substantial similarity is relied on because you may find direct evidence of copying difficult or impossible to prove. Courts use the judgments of the ordinary lay observer to determine similarities.
There are two categories of substantial similarity: comprehensive and fragmented. Comprehensive similarities are non-literal and often implied, where fragmented similarities are literal, but minor segments. This is the traditional method of approaching an infringement claim. Has the duplicate taken so much of the copyrighted material in either of these categories to have wrongly appropriated something that belongs to the owner? Different courts have since adopted their own methods for determining similarities. The Ninth Circuit created a test called the Total-Concept-and-Feel Test. This test relies on a subjective view to determine whether the “concept and feel” of one work is similar to another. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals uses a test named the Abstraction-Filtration-Comparison Test. This test compares the elements of a work at increasing levels of abstraction, excluding the elements of that work that are not copyrightable. As you can surely predict, different methods will inevitably lead to a spectrum of infringement results.
A problem of substantial similarity arose in the production of the film, Batman Forever. It would make sense that a popular song requires permission before you use it in your video. In the Batman case though, the court was faced with the issue of visual elements. The opening scene sets the scenery, sweeping from street level up to the peak of a downtown building, where a hostage victim stands in peril. In these few seconds a glimpse of copyrighted artwork, primarily the tops of wrought iron sculptures, are captured. Does this scene violate the sculptor’s copyright? In the decision Leicester v. Warner Bros. the court ruled since the sculpture was part of the architectural work of the building it was exempt from copyright infringement. The court basically decided that, in this case, a private sculpture was somehow equivalent to public property.
On the other hand, a 1991 decision, Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., heard by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, changed the face of the music industry in a more conservative direction. The court ruled that the original copyright owner must preapprove any sampling of music. Sampling was held to be a direct infringement of a holder’s copyright. The court stated, “it is clear that the defendants knew that they were violating the plaintiff’s rights as well as the rights of others.”
By now you are probably thinking, Is there any way to avoid copyright infringement? Although the guidelines for infringement are vague, you can take precautions to avoid any infringement confrontation. The first and probably the most important guideline is: do not copy any material from the Internet or anywhere else for that matter. By default, all of this material is already copyrighted; copying would constitute clear-cut copyright infringement. This holds true for derivative works, too. If your video is derived from a copyrighted work, you won’t be able to use it without written permission from the copyright holder. So no, you can’t change “just a little bit” of the original work.
Secondly, stay innovative. Being original and creative will help ensure that you are not violating any copyright laws.
You should make note though, as always, there are some loopholes. If the source you are copying was created before 1922, you are safe from allegations of infringement. Also in the list of exceptions is music or sound effects that are royalty-free. Exceptions to copying have additionally been granted under the fair use doctrine. Fair use permits limited copying solely for the purposes of reporting, criticism, commentary, and teaching. Lastly, and probably the most straightforward approach is for you to ask the copyright holder for written permission to use his or her work.
As you have probably concluded, copyright infringement is sometimes hard to pin down. If not obvious, it is certainly a demon to be avoided. By following our few guidelines, you can help ensure an unobstructed path while creating art.
August 20, 2010 Comments Off on Feeding the Starving Artist/Law