Weren't You Just There Last Month, Bats?

Considering that I was last in New York City a month ago, I guess it's odd that I took a weekend trip. But hey, it was a fun, jam-packed weekend... resulting in a long, photo-filled post here.


First of all, it was pretty damn satisfying to bail out of work early on Friday, hop the Acela down to New York Penn Station, drop off my bags at my sister's place, and make it to the Blue Note in time to catch the 10:30 set (Dave Holland Quartet).

Oh yeah. They offered up a California-made Belgian-style ale, called Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale, complete with an image of Mr. Monk himself on the bottle. I had to try one... which meant finishing a 750 mL ale by myself on an empty stomach. Hey... it was a long week... I managed to stumble my way home all right.


Saturday was the planned get-together with A & Guy--we decided we wanted to catch the James Ensor exhibit at MoMA before it closed. Ensor is an odd duck--Belgian, late 1800s/early 1900s, rather surreal and avant-garde. Honestly, I knew him mostly from the They Might Be Giants song:

Meet James Ensor
Belgium's famous painter
Dig him up and shake his hand
Appreciate the man

Before there were junk stores
Before there was junk
He lived with his mother and the torments of Christ
The world was transformed
A crowd gathered round
Pressed against his window so they could be the first

To meet James Ensor
Belgium's famous painter
Raise a glass and sit and stare
Understand the man

For reference, the New York Times review of the show is here: "From Ensor’s Curiosity Shop, Nightmares of Gruesome Beauty"

Ensor is difficult to pin down--style wise, you don't really say, "Oh yeah, that's an Ensor"--his works were everything from realist to neo-Impressionist to finely detailed line drawings to works, if unlabelled, could easily pass for mid-20th century. I guess stylistically, there are common threads running through his work: creepy, skulls, masks, death, bodily functions (urination, vomiting, defecation). Incidentally, the junk store line above is relevant--he lived above a junk store, and various ephemera made its way into his art, such as the masks and other background clutter.

Skeletons Trying to Warm Themselves 1889

One of my reactions was, "He created all these works, and they hadn't gotten around to inventing LSD yet? Wow..."

We spent a few more hours at MoMA; I caught the Ron Arad exhibit (Israeli industrial designer-artist-architect)--he does stuff like abstract sculpture in modern industrial materials like aramid fiber-Nomex composite. Also, there was one work that caught my eye, concentrating on the suburban sprawl at the Tijuana-San Diego border:

...Cruz envisions a new urban landscape, calling for a densely arranged network of retrofitted homes. In this installation... a series of Latin American immigrants to the United States describe how they imagine the network of suburban San Diego homes transforming over time. The animated rendering on the right depicts the "McMansion" evolving as the characters tell their stories.

Heh. Immigrants turning San Diego into Tijuana. I'm not sure if I'm more delighted by the horror this inflicts on suburbians, the effective higher density use of these buildings, or sentencing these houses to such an ignominious fate. Hey Omri, you checking this out?

And dinner at Katz's Deli (i.e., from When Harry Met Sally) followed, along with an evening's wander around SoHo. Even managed to shoehorn in a late showing of In the Loop (satire about the rush to go to war, between the UK and the US).


And Sunday morning, more museum geekery. I had been meaning to catch an exhibit ever since I read about it--“Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City”. Researchers took historic maps, soil borings, written records, archeological information, and put together many maps of what Manhattan was like before European settlers found it in the 1600s:

Really fascinating, such as checking out how thoroughly humans have reshaped the landmass of Manhattan and New York City. They had contour and geospatial maps, of everything from estimated incidence of forest fires, beaver populations, geology, etc. For instance, I did not realize that there is a seam of non-homogeneous bedrock that underlies both Roosevelt Island and the Lower East Side.

There was also a photography exhibit--Dutch Seen: New York Rediscovered. One interesting artist does portrait photography in the style of seventeenth century Dutch painters, but with a twist.

Hey... wait a second... that's a plastic grocery bag! Heh.

I then caught the Fung Wah back up to Boston... man, it's really hard to beat that $15 fare.

(Hell Gate bridge, from I-278)

I'd never taken it before, so I thought I ought to try it out, just for the experience. No complaints about the ride, but there's a certain luxury on Amtrak, on being able to spread out, plug in your laptop, and get some work (or reading, or whatever) done. Plus the train has a much smoother ride, and avoids traffic. But it's sometimes hard to justify a close-to-order of magnitude difference in price ($15 vs. $109).


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