Tag Archives: Art

The Crescent City Diaries #12

My first stop in City Park was the New Orleans Museum of Art. The temperature in NOLA had been steadily increasing since my arrival, and at this moment I felt like I was getting a taste of Louisiana’s tropical climate for the first time. I had barely been in City Park five minutes and already I could feel myself longing for the air con of the museum ahead.

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Like most of the museums in New Orleans, the Museum of Art is big enough without being too big. It’s not one of those labyrinthine monstrosities like the Louvre or the Victoria & Albert, where you have to prioritize what exhibits you like best. How long you spend here more or less depends on your interest in the pieces themselves. I decided to take my time and try to think about the pieces I found most striking. My interest in art has massively increased this year. I’m Pinteresting the shit out of my favorite Renoir paintings, I’m watching Youtube videos on the meaning of Edward Hopper’s work, and my appreciation for modern art forms has grown exponentially. My favorite exhibit in the museum was that devoted to the Storyville Photographs, a haunting series of portraits taken by John Bellocq in the 1910s of the city’s famous red light district. In many of the Storyville Photographs, the faces of the nude prostitutes have been scraped out, and in others, the women are wearing masks. It remains a mystery why exactly the faces were obscured, and whether it was Bellocq himself or someone else.

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Upon leaving the museum, I walked the short distance across the canal bridge to my next stop: the Sydney & Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. I liked the sculptures on show here; there was something twisted and macabre about them that made me think that each one revealed some kind of repressed trauma on the part of its creator. The giant spiders looked like Castlevania bosses before the textures had been added in. There was one statue of a man smiling as birds pecked away at his skin, eating him alive. I saw what looked like a torii gate with a Japanese guy hanging upside down which disturbed me to no end. And the horse skeleton fashioned out of gnarled branches was suitably reminiscent of the zombified horse the Night King rides upon. Even though I’m more interested in paintings than sculptures, I couldn’t help but feel that the latter was the more powerful medium. If I wanted to convey something that would ignite a discussion, I think I would hire a sculptor before a painter. I think the way sculptures are right there in front of us, existing among us, instead of hanging on a wall, makes them really striking and expressive. It seems less passive and more demanding of one’s attention.

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I left the garden and went south, feeling now quite parched. I ended up at the Morning Call coffeehouse where I got myself a Powerade and some shaved ice. I then continued south, going past the bandstand and over another canal bridge to the Historic Oak Grove. There I walked in solitude beneath a canopy of Spanish Moss, admiring the dramatic, spiderlike growths of the live oaks. I stopped briefly at Goldfish Island before crossing the canal and going north again.

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My next destination was the New Orleans Botanical Gardens. The gardens here are lovely, with sections that reflect both the English desire to illuminate the wild beauty of nature and the French philosophy of ordering it into geometric symmetry. There were fountains, statues of lovers fondling each other in bushes, bamboo groves, and a greenhouse full of cacti. The garden was awesome, and as I stood before the range of bright flower-heads, I thought to myself that even the most beautiful painting would fall short of the splendor of nature. Gardens are an interesting form of art, for the reason that they are neither wholly natural nor wholly man-made. A garden is the intersection between the floral world and the human mind. They represent the unique ego of our species, which attempts to remake the world according to our desires. Even the English gardening style, which celebrates the randomness of nature, is built around framing certain aspects of it according to the vision of the gardener.

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At this point I had grown tired. I wanted to see more of City Park but I wasn’t sure what else to do. I was very hungry and couldn’t see any restaurants in the vicinity. I knew that the park continued northwards, stretching all the way from Mid-Town to Lake Pontchartrain, but I didn’t see anyone heading that way, nor any clear path there. The green fields and live oaks just seemed to go on forever. Unsure, I walked north, abandoning the sidewalk and continuing across the grass. The ground beneath my foot was hard and dusty and I got stones in my sandals. I reached an empty, quiet road through the park that went past a deserted stadium. I kept going, hoping to stumble across another attraction, but there was nothing in sight. I was moving away from the touristy areas. Eventually I said screw it and headed back to the museum, where I stumbled upon the Zemurray Trail that loops around Big Lake toward the streetcar stop. It was at that moment I thought to myself: Big Lake? City Park? Who named these places, an accounting intern dying of boredom?

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While on the streetcar I identified a spot for lunch on Canal Street. The Palace Café is a famous restaurant in a three-story, high-ceilinged building. I went up to the second floor and got my lunch at the bar. The service was impeccable and the Shrimp Tchefuncte I ordered was delicious- but a little pricey. Whenever I enter an upscale place like this I feel both curious and uneasy. The bar specializes in rum and the shelves of rum go all the way around the wall. It’s amazing. As I ate my bread pudding for dessert, a middle-aged man that seemed a little tipsy came over and sat down a few stools adjacent to me. He asked the bartender for his recommendation. The bartender served him a glass of highly expensive rum. The man said he was a “scotch guy”, and never really drank rum, but that this rum was the best he ever had. They then had a lively conversation about how rum was making a huge comeback in the world of spirits. The man then told the bartender that he was from Baltimore, and asked if he had seen The Wire. He said that the city was undergoing some redevelopment, and that he was involved in buying up cheap real estate in the ghetto which was in the process of skyrocketing in value. I listened with keen interest, before finally paying my bill and leaving the opulence of the Palace Café behind.

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The Crescent City Diaries #10

As I sit down to write the tenth entry into my New Orleans travel diary, I find myself following some rather amusing associative thought-processes. It’s all a complete accident, isn’t it? A coincidence? For a week now I’ve been listening to the Chopin Nocturnes as I go about trying to make sense of my impressions of the Big Easy and refine them into something ordered, coherent, and written. The complete nocturnes run about 2 hours, which is about how long it takes me to write a post. It was a decision I made, to have this piece of music accompany my thoughts of New Orleans- but why? Some part of me decided that it was appropriate, that it would “get me in the mood”, that it related specifically to the subject. I like the idea that this piece of music can help me understand my subject and facilitate the process by which I draw out something that is muddled, conceptual, imagistic, and weave it into a structure of sentences and paragraphs. The only thing is, Chopin and his Nocturnes have absolutely cock-all to do with the subject of my writing. For one, Chopin was Polish, and to my knowledge never stepped foot on Bourbon Street. And what’s more, the nocturnes couldn’t be further from the musical identity of the Big Easy.

New Orleans is debauched and bluesy, a carnival of bombastic trumpets and ever-so-sultry saxophones. The nocturnes are a series of 21 piano solos, using gentle, harmonious notes that seem to “tumble” over each other, rising and falling like the belly of a sleeper, to evoke something deeply introspective, contemplative, and personal. Now that I think about it, it’s a very introverted piece of music. New Orleans, by all accounts, is the exact opposite. It’s not one sound, nor one voice- it’s many. It’s energy. It’s every color at once. It’s inclusive, extroverted, rambunctious. Multicultural, interwoven, blended. It’s the antithesis of the old world and the classics. It’s not brooding, it’s playful.

I realized then, that the only possible connection that Chopin had to New Orleans was his surname, which he shares with the writer Kate Chopin, of no relation. Alas, there was nothing complex and interesting about his work that drew me to associate it with my subject, but merely the coincidence that he had the same surname as the author of the great novel The Awakening. And now that I think about it, Kate Chopin established a lot of my preconceptions about New Orleans and its culture. I had been assigned the book in 2012 during my time at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire. It tells the story of Edna Pontellier and her slow abandonment of the orthodox notions of femininity and family. I was too lazy then to actually read the novel, but I was inspired and intrigued by my professor’s lectures on it. So it might be that my perception of New Orleans is a little warped, but my memories of those lectures provided a kind of framework through which I constructed my own image of the city and its famous French Quarter. When I arrived there, I too would be on a voyage of discovery like Edna.

At this point I want to come back to the idea that music can reveal in a very affecting and unique way a place’s temperament. It may not have been true of the Chopin Nocturnes, but by investigating that random thought-thread, I’ve considered more what makes New Orleans the place it is- and how Jazz might just be the best way to understand it.

The Big Easy. That name alone is indicative of a place that celebrates the quirky and free-spirited. As I’ve written in previous posts, there is perhaps no trait that’s endeared this city to me more so than its commitment to art. And hand-in-hand with that is the rejoicing of decadence. New Orleans is a decadent place, from its music to its food. The ingredients, seasonings, and recipes of the city have their roots in the colorful cultures of France, Spain, and the Caribbean. The dishes I had were hot and spicy, to the point that I worried the mild tastes I had grown up with as a resident of the U.K would prevent me from properly enjoying it. I had deep-fried jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon, alligator sausage po’boys, crawfish étouffée, chicken & seafood gumbo, and the city’s famous blackened redfish. For dessert I had pecan pie and bread pudding. I realized that a lot of these dishes were what I had considered Cajun food. A little research told me that the difference between Creole and Cajun cuisine was not the dishes themselves, but the people making them. Creole food was the food of the city, and Cajun the food of the country. That also explained why all the restaurants in New Orleans referred to themselves as Creole restaurants, and not Cajun.

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I also noticed that the French Quarter has a huge smoking culture. It’s the first American city I’ve been in where I’ve noticed people smoking. It’s something that’s commonplace in Europe, as evidenced by the shock Americans have when seeing London and Paris for the first time. Tobacco is something the Americans have done a much better job of eradicating than we Europeans. But in New Orleans, it’s being kept alive. The French Quarter is full of cigar shops, tobacco and snuff-box specialty stores, and hookah bars, and down the street you see plenty of people holding cigarettes, roll-ups, vaporizers, cigarillos, et cetera. Smoking has always freaked me out, but I couldn’t deny it seemed at home in the Quarter.

Throughout The Awakening, Edna has to ask herself if she can be brave enough to let go of her inhibitions and embrace a playful and passionate lifestyle where she is free to pursue her desires. The French Quarter seemed to be asking me the same question. I looked at the painters and the drunkards and the buskers and the smokers and I wanted to be brave like them. The Quarter is an environment that encourages indulgence- for whatever sin, vice, or pastime you please- and as such it’s an environment that challenges you. Like Edna, I viewed the free-spirited existence of these people as an invitation. And to accept it would require overcoming my shyness or self-consciousness. The Quarter is a place that wants to hear your voice.

It’s also a place where artists feed off of each other for creativity and inspiration. Rather than feeling competitive or intimidated by another’s talent, one is made stronger by it. Seeing someone honing their craft and demonstrating their skill encourages one to join in and put him or herself out there. I learned quickly that a lot of the artists in the Quarter knew each other. On Instagram, I discovered local painter Lauren Breaux through the cabaret singer Angie Z I admired so much from the night before. I contacted Lauren to tell her how much I liked her paintings. She replied that she too found Angie Z especially ravishing, and that she was one of her favorite muses, having painted her several times. I then asked Lauren if she could create a digital portrait of me to use for my blog. I was eager not just to support the local art scene, but to be inducted into the community in some small way. Here’s what Lauren came up with:

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If you want to find out more about Lauren’s work, check out her Etsy page here!

The Crescent City Diaries #3

As I dipped in and out of Royal Street’s art galleries on my first morning, I came across a little place called The Historic New Orleans Collection, a large, 18th century house converted into a museum. I slicked back my hair- already wet with the city’s famous rain- and smiled at the lady on the front desk. This museum is free, and you get a discount to several other French Quarter museums and historic buildings by going in there. On top of that, the people here are super-nice. They seemed to match my energy- sometimes, when solo-traveling, I can get really chatty- and dare I say, confident– with the people I meet. I work well in that dynamic- where the other person is in a professional capacity, and so my presence has less chance of being received with disgust. One thing I’ve found out on this trip is that the other person’s body language and eye contact is so important to my self-confidence. My ability to assert my personality and spread my social wings goes up in direct proportion to the other person’s physical signs of approachability. All I need is to be looked in the eye and smiled at, and that reassurance that yes- I am welcome here erases all doubt, allowing me to trust my own words.

I ended up having conversations in almost every exhibit, and the curators here were excellent company. In most museums I go to, the curators just watch me suspiciously. But these curators respond to your level of interest in the exhibit. They smile and say hi when you enter the room, then wait for you to show signs of intrigue before approaching you. I was shown some of the original bureaucratic documents from the Louisiana Purchase which was pretty cool. Basically an invoice sent by Napoleon to the US government…

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What’s also amazing about this place is that they are totally chill about taking photos, so long as you don’t use flash. I ventured into a room with some gorgeous oil paintings of antebellum scenes- and it was so interesting discussing with the curator what we could learn from them about plantation life. We spent a long time discussing a painting of a slave burial somewhere in the south Louisiana woods. The dog without a leash. Who looked after the dog? It probably belonged to the slaves themselves, the curator said. The masters could be seen at the edge of the painting, watching from the trees. It was custom, she said, for the slave owners to maintain a respectful distance during the ceremony. I asked how many of the slaves in the painting were related. They were most likely a mixed bag, she answered, as many slaves were separated from their families at the markets. However, she added, if the masters were kind-hearted folks, they may have tried to keep slave families together.

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We went around the room together. She started telling me about some recent controversy in Louisiana about Confederate monuments. It was interesting to get a local take on it. The curator said that a lot of the monuments were erected in reaction to Northern oppression after the war. Carpetbaggers, they were called. I asked her what Creole meant, and if Creoles were white. The woman said that Creole didn’t refer to a person’s color at all. It was simply a word to refer to first generation Americans in New Orleans- that is to say, those whose parents were born elsewhere (be it Haiti or Calabria) and then immigrated to the Big Easy. So a Creole person could be white or black. I thanked her for the info and decided to move on.

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I spilled out onto the street and saw that the rain had stopped. The rain came and went that day in short, violent bursts. The Big Easy rain was tantamount to the temperament of a true artist. Nothing is smooth and steady in this city, even on my dearest Royal Street. Driving a car through the French Quarter feels like riding a horse through a European trench. That was how one lady put it to me anyway. Every street was fixed with a dilapidated kind of beauty that comes with bearing the weight of past tragedies. A block over, on Bourbon, is where you’ll find little brass bands whose bombastic trumpets let you know that you’re in the hub of wild adventures. Conversely, Royal has individual buskers. Local singers that find a street corner, and whose melodies let you know you’re in the hub of artistic contemplation. There’s the one guy that stands across from the Cornstalk Hotel, starts clapping his hands, and begins “Don’t know much about his-tory…” right on cue as the low light of the setting sun comes to welcome tourists heading out to dinner.

One night, on the corner of St Peter and Royal, I saw a small crowd gathered around a young woman belting out soul music. She had a voice as rich and sweet as the slow-pouring of molasses. There was something about her talent for reaching- and more impressively, maintaining- ambitious notes that made me think of water and curved edges. Across the street I saw two middle-aged women utterly enraptured by this local soulstress, standing with their hands clutched to their breastbones and their mouths slightly agape. I honestly thought they might start crying. If anything, I found myself more struck by their reactions to the song than the song itself.

New Orleans- the French Quarter in particular- is not just a place where artists thrive- it’s a place where art itself is cherished and adored, like perhaps nowhere else I’ve been.

The Crescent City Diaries #2

New Orleans is a city of famous streets, whose names carry with them the immortal weight of myth. Bourbon. Canal. Royal. Frenchman. St Charles. Et cetera. I began to think about them in the same way I think about great novels. The ones whose names alone instill a kind of awe; Crime & Punishment, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Grapes of Wrath. And like those great novels you hear so much about and have yet to read, you become aware in that first moment of contact- the first step on the sidewalk, the first sentence- that the truth of its living essence might very well be buried underneath all that myth, waiting to be discovered by you the way so many others have unearthed it before.

Before coming to the Big Easy I had Bourbon Street confused with Memphis’ Beale Street in my head. I checked my little New Orleans guide book and sure enough Bourbon Street is the first aspect of the city it covered. How long would I spend on historic Bourbon Street? What would I do there? I figured the main attraction would warrant at least half a day. The answer is I didn’t spend much time there at all, which I wonder might sound akin to saying I visited Cairo and only saw the Pyramids of Giza from the shuttle-bus window.

This uncertainty on my part, and my present lack of regret in not doing Bourbon Street justice, are important lessons I think I’ve learned about solo-traveling. My trip to New Orleans stands alongside Budapest as being my first forays into solo-traveling as a lifestyle, and therefore it doesn’t stand in isolation. The various missteps, overestimations, underestimations, surprises, and regrets are all softened by the fact that they are contributing to something larger- this whole “Tumbleweed business” we have here.

Bourbon Street can best be summed up by the t-shirts they have for sale hanging in the windows of Decatur’s tourist shops: “I got Bourbon-faced on Shit Street.”

It’s almost exclusively bars and strip clubs. At first that was kind of intimidating to me. It’s one thing if you’re with your friends, but wandering alone amongst screaming drunks and loud music triggers my fight or flight instinct, which 99% of the time results in flight from the given (or perceived) threat. I walked through it a few times, hands deep in my pockets and gripped around my phone and wallet, and after peering into several dingy saloon interiors, decided against pretending to be confident. I flirted with the idea of channeling Don Draper, sitting at the bar stirring a neat scotch and waiting for someone to ask me why I was so mysterious. But that’s just not me. I’ve never been mysterious, and the path that would make me an interesting person is often too hard for me to take. It’s easier to walk past, and try and act like you’ve got somewhere to be, injecting some rhythm and purpose into my frantic steps.

The street I would come to know best was Royal, which runs parallel to Bourbon. It’s one block over from the neon signs, the bachelor parties, and the brass instruments, and yet the atmosphere is so different. Royal Street is characterized by beautiful Creole townhouses with wrought-iron balconies overflowing with greenery. Almost every door leads to an art gallery, and those that don’t are museums, historic restaurants, and antique shops. The first thing I did in New Orleans, on my first morning, was just stroll down Royal hopping from gallery to gallery. With the rain beating the asphalt in a suitably artsy mood, I relished the work in front of me in a way I haven’t really appreciated art before. The paintings, by and large, were so colorful and expressive, that it was like the people of New Orleans were laying their souls on the canvas. I hope that doesn’t sound pretentious. It was the soul of the city that was already revealing itself to me to be a commune of extroverts and partygoers and artists and aesthetes. I stared into the enormous face of a rainbow-colored tiger, and the wild beast of the Big Easy stared back.

Flowers of Andalucía

A couple months ago, my family and I took a trip to Andalucía. As we perused its quiet beaches and fishing villages, my brother and I decided we wanted to document our vacation in a creative way. We’re both people that get inspired by the aesthetics of a given place; the way a particular region or community’s identity is reflected in a consistent tone. We are both interested in the notion of place, and the way it lends itself to a distinctive aesthetic. But we wanted to discover the Andalucían place differently. Frank was drawn to its ambiance. He wanted to feel the pulse of these fishing villages. For him, that kind of life-force can only be derived from something that is animate. So he decided to make short films for each day of our trip, utilizing short clips and a still camera position. The still camera is important for capturing the ambiance, I think, because it meant that all the movement was coming from within the place itself. A moving camera would have diminished that life-force I think, and created a sense of distance between the viewer and the place. By having a fixed camera, he allowed the ambiance to assert itself. Short clips of gulls hopping out of the low tide, time lapses of meals in cafes, those were the kind of things he seemed to want. I, on the other hand, didn’t pursue the ambiance of the Andalucían place. I became interested in reducing it to a single image, a frozen moment in time, from which may be extrapolated the qualities of the viewer’s imagination. Frank wanted to capture the place as it was, whereas I wanted only to give an impression of it. We would see an empty, narrow alleyway in Seville and essentially take the same shot. I’d take a photo and he would take a video clip a few seconds long. And yet the resulting effect would be so different. Even though his camera would be still, and the empty alleyway devoid of activity, you still get that sense of life– be it a shift in the way the light falls on the wall, or a slight tremor in the air. When I went to Budapest in April, I took a lot of photos and I wrote a lot of haikus. Photos and haikus are very much alike; they’re both images. They’re a taste of something larger. You can sense the existence of that something larger when you see the image, and your imagination constructs it for you based on the taste you are given. 

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The area we stayed in was full of marshes and wetlands. I loved giving a sense of this low, unfolding landscape of reeds, muddy waterways, and marram grass by having the background out of focus. The color palette of the salt marshes was a dark, dry kind of green, which made the flowerheads stand out.

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Feather grass has always intrigued me.

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I find it hard to articulate why boardwalks are so exciting.

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This is one of those “old juxtaposed with the new” photos. The views from the castle ramparts included a big-ass industrial plant. I’ve always found industrial aesthetics super-interesting. I’ll take any chance I can get to photograph a factory, warehouse, power plant, sawmill, or shipping container.

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It’s interesting exploring small Spanish towns during a siesta. The whole place is deserted and the only sound is the trickling of a nearby fountain, like this one.

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I’ve always been fascinated with stories of how places get their names. It’s funny how one tribe of people can give a place its name, and so the name of the tribe lives on millennia after it has disappeared. England literally translates to Angle-land. The land of the Angle tribe. But the Angles were just one of the many peoples that settled the island. There were Vikings, Danes, Celts, Iceni, Romans, Saxons, and Normans too. Today we think of the English as being one group of people, but no one in England thinks of themselves as a member of the Angle tribe. The Angles are dead. And yet we still use their name to identify ourselves. It’s the same in France, which gets its name from just one of the tribes that settled it: the Franks. And the Franks were German. Up until Napoleon came along, only 10% of the country even spoke French.

Andalucía gets its name from the Vandal tribe, who were just one of many that settled the region. The southern coast of the Iberian peninsula has long been a hotbed for various cultures. The blend of Hispanic and Moorish architectural styles in particular made Seville very beautiful, as you can see above!

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While I was in Seville, an American student informed us that the entire cast of Game of Thrones were staying at a fancy hotel across the street. Before we knew what was happening, a good 50 people gathered outside the fence hoping for autographs and selfies. I waited for a long time, and when it became clear that they weren’t exiting the hotel, I found myself walking up to the front entrance in the hope of ambushing them in the lobby, or even the hotel bar. However a security guard told me to piss off.

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But I did get to see one of the places they filmed Game of Thrones. I’m sure y’all recognize the above picture as the Dornish palace where that guy gets stabbed by Indira Varma.

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Mazes always make me a little scared. Whenever I see one I recall a trauma from my childhood where I got lost.

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In this photo I’m focusing on the column. Usually I do this with flowers, and I always position the flower to the side of the picture, like I’m doing here with the column. It’s not because I like flowers so much. I just like how a focused object- be it a column or whatever- has a way of framing everything else. It sounds strange to say, but when I take pictures like this, I’m actually more interested in what’s out of focus.

Spring 2018 Recap

Today I’d like to do a springtime recap! These posts are always super-fun to write, and they let y’all know what I’ve been up to when I’m not writing or scrapping metal. Don’t worry; there are no spoilers for anything I review here.

 


TV: Westworld & Evil Genius

 

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These are the two shows I’ve really been obsessed with this year so far. I’m actually enjoying Westworld’s second season more than its first. I won’t spoil anything for those of y’all still catching up, but I love the direction they’re taking the show in and the themes that come with that narrative avenue. The crux of Westworld is its exploration of the consequences of theme park robots remembering what happens to them before they’re destroyed, repaired, and reset, and I think that the concept of these “dreams” and “reveries” being the catalyst for self-awareness is such a fascinating, clever idea. It’s probably the most layered TV drama that I watch. It’s a show that I think about when I’m not watching it. I love going online after the episode finishes and watching video breakdowns of all the hidden meanings and revelations.

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Evil Genius, on the other hand, is a Netflix crime documentary, pitched to me by my kid brother as being to 2018 what Making a Murderer was to 2016 and The Keepers was to 2017, respectively. I loved both shows, and Evil Genius definitely scratches that particular, chillingly-macabre itch. It’s just as addictive, and like them, it’s a documentary that proved as engaging as a thriller flick. But where Making a Murderer raised questions about the U.S criminal justice system, and The Keepers was poignant and unsettling, Evil Genius is just plain weird. It’s a case of reality conjuring up something stranger than fiction. Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong is about as frightening as a Cormac McCarthy antagonist, and her associates tantamount to a Who’s Who of Erie’s most despicable white trash assholes.

 


Cinema: I, Tonya

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This might be my favorite movie of the year so far! When I think back on all the media I’ve consumed in the past few months, I, Tonya stands out as something that was both an enjoyable and a creative experience. Margot Robbie gave a career-defining performance as redneck figure skater Tonya Harding. A complete performance. One that utilized every aspect of her talent in order to create a Tonya that was in equal parts flawed and sympathetic. Given the nature of the film as being both comedic and heart-wrenching, it had to have demanded a lot of her, and she just kind of gets it right. It works, and the performance made the movie. I love how creative she is an actress and how invested she is in her recent roles; it seems like she is selecting parts that she’s really passionate about and working as both an auteur and a performer. She reminds me a lot of a young Robert De Niro.

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I was very impressed with the choreography and cinematography of the ice skating scenes, which are the most exciting moments in the film. Watching them was like watching the car chase in The French Connection or the bank heist in Heat. They’re treated like action scenes and the way the movie pulls them off is simply breathtaking. It honestly looked like Margot Robbie was executing that triple axel.

 


Theatre: A Streetcar Named Desire & A View from the Bridge

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The Tobacco Factory and the Old Vic in Bristol have had some awesome plays on this year. In my last “creative roundup” post I wrote about going to see Macbeth. And recently I’ve been to see two more tragedies: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams and A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller. I was already very familiar with the former, having seen the Marlon Brando film version several times. But it’s a story that’s so damn good that it never gets old, and I jumped at the chance to see it on stage. Even though I write fiction and poetry, I’d say my two favorite storytellers of all time are Shakespeare and Williams. As far as narratives go, they’re my absolute idols. I love the themes that Williams works with, and the modern adaptations of his plays have the freedom to be more explicit and visceral. In the Brando film version, the darker elements of the plot are hinted at but never seen. So much has to be inferred when watching it (or indeed any other adaptation of Williams’ work from that period). But watch one of his plays nowadays and it is absolutely brutal. Everything Williams wanted to write about but had to dance around in the 1950s is unleashed in all its bleak and depressing glory. I thought that Kelly Gough in particular did a fantastic job as Blanche Dubois, in a performance that made me think about just what a tragic character she is.

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A View from the Bridge, on the other hand, was a play I knew literally nothing about. I’ve seen both The Crucible and Death of a Salesman on stage, and I know that Miller is an O.G. I went to see this one with my father and my nan, and it was only on the drive to the theatre that I learned the play was about Italian-Americans in the New York docks, which made me think: I’m gonna like this. The play turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever been to- not just this year, but ever. At the interval we all looked at each other, blown away by how good it was.

“This is absolutely brilliant,” my nan said, and the woman behind us was like “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

There were a lot of young people in the audience, who were no doubt studying the play for their Lit exams, and when the play ended everyone was on their feet whistling and hooting. It was probably the loudest applause I’ve ever heard at the Tobacco Factory. If you ever get the chance to see this play then DO IT. It’s a classic tale of incest and revenge…

 

 

Exploring Szentendre Part 1

When I came to Budapest, I knew that I wanted to make at least one excursion outside the city. I’d already taken the train to the Roman ruins of Acquincum, but that wasn’t enough. I needed to see the countryside. I wanted a taste of the hinterlands, where life was slow and you could smell fresh horse manure wafting from the pastures.

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Szentendre was the perfect choice for a day’s trip out of Budapest. It’s a little Baroque village north of the capital, on what’s known as the Danube Bend- where the river meanders a little north and then sharply south, cushioned on either side by rolling hills. The name is derived from its association with Saint Andrew (Sankt Andrae in Medieval Latin and Szent Endre in Magyar).

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Already confident with using the HEV, I hopped aboard at Margit Hid with an instant black coffee in one hand and my cell phone opened to Tinder in the other. As I sat caffeinating myself and messaging a local girl named Marsci about hanging out and learning some Hungarian, the train rattled through Óbuda; we passed the site of Acquincum and I was now further than I had been before. I looked out the window at these big tenement blocks, no doubt constructed during the Soviet era. The facades had been painted over with bright colors, and it seemed to me to be some kind of reclamation. Those big Soviet buildings always seem so bleak, but nonetheless fascinating, and seeing them infused with some brightness made me happy.

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The apartment buildings gave way to trees, I looked down to read Marsci’s latest message, and before I knew it I was out in the gorgeous countryside I had for so long dreamt of seeing. Even inside the metro things were changing. There were fewer passengers, and those that remained seemed less stressed. A couple of middle-aged men got on, both of them carrying fishing poles, and I felt that I was crossing a barrier into the real Hungary. Even the weather had changed. It had been a little overcast in Budapest, but out here the clouds parted and the green valleys and fields were bathed in glorious sunshine.

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When I got off the HEV, I was a little disorientated as to where I was in relation to both the river and the rest of the town. This part of Szentendre didn’t look very touristy or Baroque. Everything was modern and functional. I decided to pick a direction and start walking. I had a vague sense of what was north, and crossed a busy road and went down a narrow footpath through the trees. When I emerged, I found the Szentendre you see in the postcards. Old, slightly run-down buildings and stone walls. A big church whose bell was ringing. Cobblestone streets. You could hear the running water of a brook and you could hear the birds. I realized, being out in the country like this, just how much sound is muffled and diluted by the city. There were plenty of people here enjoying the atmosphere, including large groups of schoolchildren. This seemed to be a big thing in Hungary. Everywhere I went- from Acquincum to Margitsziget to the House of Terror- there were school field trips.

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I wandered up Kossuth Lajos utca and hopped into the first museum I saw- the Ferenczy Museum. From the outside it looked to be an old building in keeping with the Renaissance vibe of the town- but on the inside it was super modern. As I stepped into the lobby, I wondered if this really was a museum. Perhaps the museum was in another wing of the building, I thought, and it shared floor space with a brokerage firm. There was no one else there, I had seen no one entering or leaving, and I approached a desk off to the side. The friendly woman there told me I was in fact in the right place, and gave me a map of the town. She circled three museums I ought to see, all of which I could access with the ticket I bought here. Pretty sweet deal I thought.

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The first exhibit I saw- and the one I fell in love with- was A csalók is álmodnak (Swinders Dream Too) by Éva Magyarósi. I was eager to find a contemporary Hungarian artist- someone young, someone actively working on their craft, and someone that produced something edgy and visceral. Éva Magyarósi ticked all those boxes, and the walls were full of TV screens that showed her animations. I put on the attached headphones and fell into the surreal, fantastic worlds she created. I can’t really compare her work with anything else, but there was something otherworldly about it that reminded me of the Franco-Czech animated film The Fantastic Planet (1973), as well as the work of Wayne Barlowe. The short films were an intriguing blend of poetry, pencil drawings, and animation, exploring themes of loneliness and femininity. The fact that it was Magyarósi’s voice reading the poems aloud really enhanced the feeling that I was being given direct access to her soul. My understanding of the Hungarian tongue can be charitably described as limited, but just by the tone of her voice I had a feel for the subject. I asked the curator if they had any of Éva Magyarósi’s books on sale but they didn’t. I’m still dying to get my hands on a copy of her work in book form.

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I took some photos and left, following the map to Fő tér. I stopped at many souvenir shops along the way. I wanted something authentic and handcrafted to buy as a birthday present for my friend Elizabeth. I told the storekeeper of one such shop the situation, and enquired about some traditional Hungarian scarves. She asked for Elizabeth’s hair and eye color. Brown and brown. She recommended red or green. I chose red, because Elizabeth is UW-Madison Badger. I asked if the material was Hungarian and the storekeeper said yes, then demonstrated for me the various ways Elizabeth could wear it. The scarf was adorned with flowers, and I had a good feeling my friend would like it. She likes scarves and she lives in Ireland, so I figured she would get some good use out of it. As I made the payment, I ended up chatting with the two storekeepers about some of the things I had learned about Hungary thus far. I name-dropped Ferenc Puskas again, and the man smiled. I asked if in Magyar, he would be called Puskas Ferenc. They confirmed this was true, and said they were impressed I knew about surnames coming first when speaking in Hungarian.

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I bade them farewell and decided to take one of the many narrow alleyways toward the river. So far, my day was off to a good start. I had tended to my artsy fartsy concerns- now I had to satisfy my belly…

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