6/30/10

Bright Star


I finally saw Bright Star last night, only a bit more than a year after it came out. Jane Campion is one of the most intelligent and visual directors, and I am always more than happy to see her films. In Bright Star, the depiction of the seasons unfolding on the English country side, while beautiful in a way that such scenes have been offered in countless period films, still manages to avoid being clich├ęd. Perhaps it is because there is an element of wildness in the nature depicted, not overly perfect nor manicured. In the same way, the clothes look hand-stitched, just as they would be at the time. It is in such minute details that Campion's films differ from others.

But the best thing in the film comes at the end: as the credit rolls on a black screen, Ben Whishaw, who played John Keats in the film, gives the most moving recitation of Ode to a Nightingale. Whishaw reads the poem as if he had written it himself. He has said that reading poems such as Ode to A Nightingale led him to discover a toughness and honesty in Keats that he had not expected. "It flies but is also connected to the earth." Well said.

I just want to sit in the evening darkness and listen to this.



6/29/10

City

Free piano at Pier 1
Echinacea flowers in my garden
The Brooklyn Bridge
Jell-O Competition
Jell-O Competition
Gowanus Canal
The BQE and the metal scrap yard

Country





all photographs by Andrew Montgomery

The weather has been sweltering hot these last couple of days, and Jasper Conran's sumptuous book Country is the perfect escape. Looking at these evocative images of life in rural England stirs up all my yearning for the country. Conran celebrates the part of the English country that he knows, conjuring up the magnificence of the landscape as well as the eccentricity of its people and their traditions. It makes me think about my own life and where I live. Being a deracinated refugee, home has always been where I happen to be. Unlike someone who has lived all their life in one place, I have no entangled memories in the landscape that makes up my home. There is nothing that keeps me rooted to this place. But I have come to love this city that's been my home for most of the last two decades. There is no shortage of eccentricity as well as traditions, in a New York kind of way. There is also creativity, conviviality, and community. And there is so much unexpected and uncommon beauty. Yet every once in a while, I get a hankering to sit silently still in a flowering meadow or to trample across a green field.

6/27/10

Another Brooklyn band


My favorite band at the moment is The National, whose latest album High Violet came out in May. Made up of two pairs of brothers and the lead singer Matt Berninger, who also writes all the lyrics, the band is part of a vital music scene happening in Brooklyn. In a NYT Magazine profile, Nicholas Dawidoff wrote: "Each National song is a microbatch creation integrating their obsessive, often-diverging feelings about rock 'n' roll."

Matt Berninger's notebook

I find their brooding, dirgey songs compellingly addictive. They draw you in slowly, and they get better with repeated listening. Matt Berninger's baritone, with its melancholic timbre, delivers his elliptical lyrics above a highly textured sound. There is an urgency in their music, which reminds me of Joy Division, whose memorable songs also transcended their dark undertones to be somehow strangely uplifting. Berninger, whom the band members nickname The Dark Lord, writes his songs in a notebook filled with fragments like these:
"It takes an ocean not to break"
"Sorrow's my body on the waves"
"I was swallowing the shine of the sun"
He claims that their songs have always concerned the "the unmagnificent lives of adults," which is somewhat misleading. They are just very well crafted and beautiful songs, not as lugubrious as Berninger implies.

My favorite song is Sorrow, which is not included on the video below, but their rendition of Terrible Love here is utterly riveting.


6/26/10

Mid-Summer Night


It was the Swedish Mid-Summer celebration in Battery Park last night. We opted for a quiet picnic in our favorite spot, with a view of the awe-inspiring sky above New Jersey and a lovely sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) tree. It's one of my favorite trees, not only for its lemon-scented creamy-white flowers that bloom from June to September, but also for the fact that the trees seem to glimmer in the wind from the silvery underside of the leaves.

6/22/10

Street Pianos NYC



"Play me, I'm yours: New York City 2010" is an artwork by British artist Luke Jerram, who has installed 60 pianos around New York City. Yesterday I played the one at Pier 1, Brooklyn Bridge Park. It was the most amazing place I've ever played in, even if the acoustic is not the best.

6/18/10

Jose de Sousa Saramago

Just last week I picked up Jose Saramago's The Notebook from the library. I am only half way through the book, which is a collection of the blog entries he wrote from September 2008 to August 2009. His voice is sometimes ponderous, even somewhat cantankerous–especially on the subject of Palestinian independence–but above all, vivaciously humane. The sense of the man one gets from The Notebook is one who is fully engaged in the world, who is committed to pointing out to an indifferent world the injustices he sees around him, but who remains nonetheless sensitive to the small beauties of that same world. As he wrote, "beauty doesn't merely belong to the category of what we call aesthetic, it can equally be found in moral undertakings." So the news that Saramago had died today came as a complete shock to me. I was just getting to know him, to learn so much about him and his singular take on life, and suddenly, he is no longer in life. In the words of the Nobel committee which awarded Saramago literature's highest prize, he was one "who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality."

6/16/10

The High Line










Almost a year since its opening, the High Line has proven to be ever more popular. I have found that the best time to visit the place is early in the morning. Unlike Central Park, which Olmstead designed to shut out the city, the High Line's greatest appeal is its engagement with the city. It is said that cultural landscapes are our unwitting autobiography, "reflecting our tastes, our values, our aspirations, and even our fears, in tangible, visible form." So reading the High Line would tell us that we've moved away from the 19th century romantic idea of nature as something precious and separate from the industrialized cities. It's not that we yearn for nature any less, but we have come to enfold it into our urban space as a necessary part of our landscape. There is no more separation between culture and nature. In fact, both nature and culture are enhanced by their proximity to each other. From its elevated spot, the High Line opens up new vistas to the city below, and its wildness makes a forceful juxtaposition to the architecture around it. For all its high-concept design–and I have yet to see anything more meticulously designed, down to the elegant expansion joints on the paving– what I love best about the park is the way people have made it their own, improvising picnic tables from the long benches and turning the 10th Avenue Square into an outdoor classroom–a watercolor painting class was taking place as I walked it past this morning. And credit must be given to Piet Oudolf's planting design, which does a wonderful job of retaining the some of the wild and rambling atmosphere inherent in park's former iteration as an abandoned railway. Seeing the wondrous plantings–the mounds of grass waving gently in the wind, the bright patches of flowers blooming in between the rail tracks, and groves of amelanchiers laden with deliciously ripe berries–just makes me happy.

6/14/10

A Pattern of Marks Entering My Own Stillness

"I too liked to sit unfettered in a room of my own, emptied of all the past, nothing inside, nothing around, nothing but a voice bundled in paper, a pattern of marks entering my own stillness."
Romesh Gunesekera, Reef

This is just about all I want right now. Flowers and words. And time to decipher them, to listen to all these voices "bundled in paper."


6/13/10

Karlsruher Tulpenbuch






The Karlsruher Tulpenbuch (Karlsruhe Book of Tulips) is a collection of 72 plant portraits, all that remain of 6,000 watercolors commissioned by the Margrave Carl Wilhelm of Baden-Durlach (1679-1738). The paintings were intended to become part of a cycle of botanical copperplate engravings which the Margrave wanted to have produced and they depict the fashionable tulips as well as other botanical treasures of the palace garden.

It breaks my heart that only 72 of these watercolors have been preserved. They are so exquisitely painted. Each page is beautifully composed, and the botanical details, while meticulously exact, are thrillingly splendid. I can hardly tear my eyes away.

6/12/10

Coming thro' the dews





My garden, at 6AM today.

"And I meet, coming thro' the dews
Another summer's Day!"
Emily Dickenson

I love these early summer mornings. The streets are empty and I am left alone in silence with the plants under an immense sky.

Tonight I saw the first firefly of the season.

6/11/10

Where the Wild Things Are




My story on Nicolette in Elle Decoration UK

6/10/10

iPhone Diary

Gowanus Canal in the rain

Manhattan Bridge

East River between the Brooklyn and Manhattan skylines

I got a new camera for my iPhone. It's almost as good as having a Polaroid camera.

Williamsburg





It was Lily's day off from school and we ventured over to Williamsburg for fun.