Saturday, October 27, 2007

Book Jacket, Author's Choice

The image is a production still from Samira Makhmalbaf's
Blackboards, a dramatic feature about itinerant schoolteachers who travel across the mountains of Kurdistan looking for students, blackboards strapped to their backs. The woman in the foreground is not being chased by a mob of people. She is the director with a message for the crew. Cover design by Michael McClard.

Ode to Connecticut Muffin

At the window table closest to the door facing the street, Steve Turtell is proofreading the copy for his first book of poems, Heroes and Householders, out in December. He shows a poem written at the very same table two years ago to a group of us, women friends at the other window tables--most of whom met here too. From 1987 to that tragic day, October 13 1999, when one of the two owners of the café lost his life as the victim of a botched robbery attempt, Connecticut Muffin was a magic place with a magic vibe, where serendipity reigned and small miracles occurred daily. The low-key, sympatico oasis in a drastically changing neighborhood functioned as the local Buena Vista Social Club of Little Italy, for many part of their routine. Running into friends, whether seasoned or brand new, was welcomed as much as, or more than planned rendez-vous. In the pre- laptop and cell phone era, Prince Street was still paved with cobblestones. Scores of varieties of muffins, including the famous cheese dill scone, were lovingly invented and baked by partners Gary and José in their bakery around the corner on Elizabeth Street. Utter privacy or shared conversation at adjacent tables coexisted peaceably. There were fresh flowers on every table. Conversations between acquaintances would remain site specific to the muffin shop or grow into friendships lasting decades. With no pressure of any kind being exerted by either the owners or the staff, this mindfulness of others was echoed by the café's visitors. Today, some of the old magic was revived.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Burmese Film, Total Denial

Despite its subject matter, a very upbeat film opens today in New York. It's Total Denial, Milena Kaneva's bold, courageous documentary about
lawsuit fought--and won-- by 15 Burmese villagers against UNOCAL, in the State of California . The plaintiffs invoked an Alien Tort law that dates from 1789 in which human rights abuses (9 counts) committed by a US corporation in a foreign country can be prosecuted in the US. The villages were destroyed and the villagers forced to perform slave labor for UNOCAL during the installation of their pipeline.

Bermuda Triangle

In California fires are raging. One
million people evacuated and counting. I
n an increasingly menacing cyberspace, barbed emails fly, triangulate
between Crown Heights, Madison and Connecticut defending the corporate process over the last prepress details. Brush fires all day from all quarters. I'm checking the 38-page index for the book which the indexers spun from 19 pages of suggestions I submitted at their request. Under United States, there is a curious entry which says, US filmmaking vs Iranian filmmaking. I examine the page number of the entry. The words "United States" are not on the page at all. The page, page 79, is an introduction to Jafar Panahi's first feature film "The White Balloon" and refers to the collaborative tradition of Iranian filmmaking, specifically in the context of how that film came about. In fact the only reference to anything stateside on that page is the New York Film Festival where the film was shown.. No comparison with any other filmmaker of any nationality was made or intended.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Shipped dog-eared stack of pages to Madison; received voluminous index file from publisher's outsourcee. More close scrutiny of antlike colonies of tiny type. Meanwhile ....

in Burma thugs crush monks' heads against the wall, so what's a broken pull quote in the overall scheme of things? Orphaned lines? Or a mean, saw-toothed typeface showing battle fatigue? The Casablanca "hill of beans" syndrome kicks in. Embroiled in the minutiae of page proof mark-up, I'm on Greenwich Mean Time while across the Atlantic in northwest London, Golders Green, friends mourn the harsh passing of a mutual friend, writer co-worker from the Sixties and situationist, urging us to the Paris barricades in 68. Bye, Dave. You made us laugh and we'll miss you.

Photo: David Robins, June 2005, 37 years later,
all too brief reunion with Dave in David Bieda's Soho garden,
London. The two friends were editors of Circuit,
known in the 60s as a subculture 'zine;
I joined the ranks on several issues before
leaving for New York. Robins went on to write
several books about troubled teenagers, including
"Cool Rules" .

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Rake's Progress

Photo: Dick Connette

Mary Forrester, a fellow gardener, and I rake leaves from the bocci court in M'Finda Kalunga Community Garden at Chrystie and Rivington.

Cleaning up sheafs of papers, residue from eight months working on the book, is much harder than raking leaves, which is partly why I'm not at home doing just that. Outdoors, there are bright skies and white rumps of mocking birds flashing through sycamore trees: it's the citywide parks clean-up day.

Harder too is keeping hold of New York's few remaining public
meeting spaces. Like the landmarked northern plaza at Union Square, which Union Square Business Improvement District threatens to scale back with its belligerent development plans. There's nothing deciduous about public space; it doesn't regenerate itself year by year. (See Jack Taylor's letter to the editor in this week's The Villager , and also M'Finda Kalunga co-chair Kate Webster's letter re : the Bowery. )

While we rake--
a Sisyphean task in early fall--we talk about Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis, Mary Jordan's very good documentary. Mary Forrester, a performance artist /urban anthropologist who has lived on the Bowery for decades, worked closely with Smith in the 70s. After 9/11 she held salons in her loft with live French music and sweet crab apple shishkebobs to cheer people up.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Serra Armada

EAST VILLAGE, NEW YORK--As I was locking up my bike at the bike rack in front of the 24-hour deli on the corner of Third Street and Second Avenue just before 2am today, I witnessed an amazing sight. A fleet of oversized tractor trailers with blinking lights each carried a torqued section from the huge Richard Serra sculpture at MoMA. Dismantled in this way, each section looked almost weightless like a gigantic steel sail, stealthily gliding down the avenue like a giant Armada. It's making its way in this fashion to Los Angeles.

Yes, I forgot to mention. One of the trailers has a camera rig on it and although the operators denied they were making a film about the Serra transport, (said they were making a commercial) the evidence was right there. A girl running on the sidewalk trying to take still photos of the trailers at the traffic lights also confirmed her friends were making a film about the cross-country trip.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Taking the One Train

After the party, everyone else took cabs to Brooklyn.
Photo (c) Liza Bear 2007

Fabulous Films. Page Proofs Arrive. A Party.

Poster for first New York Film Festival in 1962.

October 14, 2007--A strong week of fabulous fiction films at NYFF including this year's Palme d'Or from Cannes, Cristian Mingu's 4 Weeks, 3 Months, 21 Days from Romania, Alexander Sokurov's Alexandra from Russia easily overshadowed débacle over book's index with publisher. Pure unadulterated early Bob Dylan in Murray Lerner's concert doc of the Newport Folk Festival 1963,1964,1965 also featuring Joan Baez, twenty years in the making was well worth the wait. Photos here are from the time-honored mid-festival omelette and tiramisu party at O'Neall's on the Upper West Side near Lincoln Center.

Writer Nancy Ramsey.

Writer Jurgen Fauth, above; Marcy Dermansky, below, author of the novel "Twins".