Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Secret History, Donna Tart (1992)

In anticipation, and then preparation, for Donna Tart's much awaited Goldfinch novel, I decided to reread her first masterpiece, The Secret History. During my college years while home for a break (although which, I cannot recall), I decided to pick up this hefty hardcover on my mother's book shelf after she had raved about the story. Needless to say, I didn't get too far (I believe college got in the way) but I had read far enough to know that this was a book I should finish. The words stuck with me, the image of the small, academic Northeaster school floated in my head and the clean prose as well. It may have taken me a few years, but while home for Thanksgiving this year, I picked it up again - and finished it.
The Secret History is literally about a murder (or two) but the story itself is about the unraveling of the characters themselves. At first, you meet these academically inclined, wealthy students whose interest and pure love of ancient Greek is unwavering, as is their respect and loyalty to their professor, Julian. Julian seems almost God-like in this novel, the pinnacle of truth and learning. A true professor in my mind, as I tend to put them all on a pedestal above the mere mortals below. While the main character, Richard, seems to flounder at first, his intrigue into this unknown world pulls him into the inner circle (his California heritage really won him points, as it was clearly a place of intrigue in the minds of the others). This inner circle is beyond Richard's wildest dreams and as he tries, and sometimes fails, to get close to each of the characters - Francis, Charles, Bunny, Camila, and Henry - he is always the outsider.
For those of you who have not had the chance to flounder in this peculiar world of Hampden college, by all means, stop wasting time and start reading. I will not give any more of the plot away, except to say that this is the type of book where seemingly awful things are happening, but the steady pace of the words and the characters actions seems to justify the madness. Even in the telling of some horrendous plot twist, Donna Tart's prose is steady and truthful - it does not shy away from the horrible but rather questions your taste of the horrible. Was the first murder really all that bad? Or was it just the end game of an ancient Greek ritual, therefore, it was all in the name of academic learning and self-exploration? You find yourself almost believing in this excuse and playing along with with the gang, in their inner circle, because don't you want to be a part of this too?

If I was playing the dinner party game with living people, Donna Tart would most definitely make my list and she can bring her pal Bret Easton Ellis.  I want her secret sauce for conjuring up such incredible stories (I haven't started The Goldfinch yet, but I believe all the hype). Must be that sweet, swampy Mississippi air...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Classicly New York

When I was in London, playing "abroad" yet again, I had a lot of free, alone time, something a post-college grad is not used to. However, my love of literature and my lack of education (yes, I missed class), brought me into the North Kensington Library one stormy day. Somewhere along the way from my flat to the library, I realized what I needed in my life was romance. I wanted to be swept away into the romantic classics that scholars quote and students begrudge. My take out that day consisted of 'Wuthering Heights' and 'Lady Chatterley's Lover', both of which I devoured. Thus began my journey into the classic novel.

My literary appetite has not subsided since moving to the Big Apple, but I did want a sense of old New York to be played out in a novel. And so, I picked up 'The Age of Innocence' by Edith Wharton. Archer, Madame Ellen Olenska, May Welland - I fell head over heels into their world of stifled desires, muted agonies, and fear of making a scene in New York Society. This gilded age of New York City society filled my imagination as I walked fifth avenue in present day, picturing the characters in their overcoats and dresses, making their way to the theater or to a dinner invite. The power of status, of family name, was so strong it killed any chance for excitement and drama. Yet, below the surface, we see our main character, Archer, flaring with emotion and fantasy, clenching his teeth as his mind whirls into romance and freedom.

I read this book feverishly; Edith Wharton paints a beautiful scene of these societal woman and their unspoken thoughts, their stubborn refusal to face harsh realities, and their absurd fear for causing any sort of scenes within this tightly knit play on life. As the last sentences left me in Paris, I drifted into a nostalgia reminiscent of this life.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Gilded Age

It was pouring down sheets of rain as my Mom and I made our way onto the 6 train to head up town. Rain slogged our shoes, wet umbrellas paved a slippery path on the subway car, and a dreary emotion permeated the city. With the economy weighing heavy on everyone's mind and bank accounts, New York was showing its weary lines of stress. And the week of non stop rain didn't help.

Emerging onto 70th street, a large structure came into view, with detailed architecture and a sense of solidarity. Making our way into the foyer entrance, shredding ourselves of wet umbrellas, we emerged in a spectacular, mesmerizing, and awe inducing home. Suddenly, the glorious past was at our fingertips and a historic tranquility lifted our spirits.

The Frick Museum, built during the Gilded Age by Henry Clay Frick, is a true New York City gem. The museum itself, once home to Mr. Frick, speaks of a decadent age. Walking through the connected rooms, with high vaulted ceilings, painted panels of cherubs and maidens, adorned with famous Old Italian Master Paintings, one truly feels the pull of the past. The entrance hall, with a large gold plated organ in an alcove next to the stairs, the stairs, wrapped in a decorative iron gate, and the tile floors echoing our soft steps, we imagined being summoned to a dinner at this glorious home. Quite the entrance guests would have experienced.

The artworks themselves were chosen with perfection, in line with the regal and almost religious upstanding of the mansion. From the wispy, angelic pastels by Fragonard, to the elegant portraiture frames of aristocrats by Gainsborough, to the tumultuous and fiery nature landscapes of Joseph Mallord William Turner, I sank into each painting as if I was reclining into a worn in, overstuffed chair. Among the old Masters, the seriousness of Titian & Piero della Francesca, I spotted a wonderfully playful Manet, "The Bullfight". And again, was delighted to find a watery Monet landscape. Although most of the collection spoke of a pious past, the collection also played on the lighter strings of angels, and mischievous woman.

We sauntered through the Mansion a second time, carefully eyeing the descriptive details within the framework and furniture. After, we spent a long time in the museum shop, flipping through books on Mr. Frick, stories of a past exuberant life, and relishing the tales of the Gilded Age.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Can I Be Your Edie?

It was a muggy, rainy Wednesday night and a select group of us from MoMA were trekking down to Brooklyn for a studio visit. This being my second time to Brooklyn since living in NYC, I wasn't thrilled about the prospect of being in Red Hook - the most industrial edge of the borough. Walking along scrap metal junkyards and deserted warehouses, under a massive bridge being constructed slash renovated, we found ourselves on a shady side street, devoid of any life, either human, plant or animal. Eerie, yes. Kind of off the beat, this could be cool, most definitely.

We knocked on a large, grey steel door...and waited...and waited. Finally, a skinny, Brooklyn-ite hipster from the depths of the warehouse emerged bleary eyed, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He motioned us in, and we followed him up two sets of wide stairs, with neon lights blazing our way. Then we entered the Space. It was as if I had stepped through a time portal and landed in the Warhol Factory of the 60s in Midtown Manhattan. I felt calmly at home amongst the paint speckled floorboards, the art work half finished on canvases against the walls or sculptures scattered across the floor. The group, a mix of grungy yet beautiful artists with cigarette boxes rolled into their t-shirt sleeves, skinny jeans hanging from their lean frames, and tied up boots - a look that spoke of nonchalance but still, a 'look'. Only the one who led us in did any talking. The rest floated around the different large rooms, drinking PBRs and smirking at our preppy and inquisitive group.

Their Mission, although a bit hard to articulate, revolves around a dead white man, Bruce, who died on September 11, 2001 but NOT in the terrorist attack. He just so happened to die on that day. His large, plastered face hangs ominously above one of the rooms, like a demi-god dictating their thoughts behind the brush strokes. The group is dedicated to "preservation of the legacy ogf the late social sculptor". Okay, so I guess I can buy into this...but what I really appreciated was their re-appropriation of art history. The other part of their mission is to "resurrect art history from the bowels of despair" hence the crass and crude image to the left of Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Another large work was of Velazquez’s greatest and most intriguing work: Las Meninas which was reappropriated by Picasso in the late 19th century and now here again, by the Bruce High Quality Foundation. The folding and intermingling of artists and eras is fascinating.

Overall, I left feeling a bit Dazed & Confused, but very, very intrigued. So much so that I was tempted to hang back, observing the artists in their natural, free spirited environment, wishing I could drink the Kool Aid with them. And of course, re-appropriate the Muse herself, Edie Sedgwick.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

On the humid fall September evening, I made my way through the throngs of people, dressed to impress, with cocktails in hand and eyes all aglow. A festive spirit infiltrated the air with a serious undertone nodding to the expansive and expensive nature of this exhibition. Riding the escalator up to the 6th floor, my heart thumped with a new-school day excitement. I found myself among the flourish of colors and urban abstractions and female interpretations, mixed with sculpture and black-and-whites, squeezed into museum walls bursting with conversation, eyes and hands furiously pointing, staring, in awe of a master, my mind buzzing with the excitement of it all; I had fallen down the rabbit hole.

Welcome to The Museum of Modern Art's "de Kooning: A Retrospective." The rooms flowed through his time line of themes starting with '40s figurations, black and white compositions, then to the female idol with my personal favorite, "Woman I" and into landscapes, finally swooping into more abstractions and a focus on paint strokes. Sculptures also dotted a few rooms, speaking to his expansive pallet of materials. I was in utter awe. I attempted to read the curator's summaries at the start of each room but with the mass of members moving in waves, it was hard to concentrate, so I gave in to solely enjoying the flow of colors and lines.

Paying tribute to this modern master is no small feat. He wrestles with the figure over the years, expanding the boundaries of abstraction, and teasing those trying to define him. His shuddering lines and acid colors stir something in the viewer that only a mastermind could do.

It is surely a show that requires time and studious observation, but the opening shrouded the show in luxurious admiration. Luckily for me, I will be blessed with a curatorial walkthrough in early October. And I plan to eat up every moment I have alone in front of his mesmerizing works.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

American Classic

After a wonderful weekend out in the Hamptons, complete with bbqs, Wolffer Vineyard visits, a park softball game, afternoons on the beach, a Southampton Social club appearance and a bonfire to end the summer, I made my way back to the city for a baseball game. Leaving our house for a final Twice Upon an Overpriced Bagel stop and a final vegetable hoarding at the Farm Stand, we missed the parking lot traffic on 27 and cruised right into the Bronx. Thanks should be given here to the 3G iPad for navigating our way. Now, being a Massachusetts girl, I have found myself between a rock and a hard place when it comes to being a sports fan: Boston vs. NY. This infamous, ongoing, and brutal battle between the two cities has become quite a point of conflict for me. Growing up with a sports fanatic brother and dad, I had no choice but to root for the Red Sox, cheer for the Bruins, holler for the Patriots - and I loved being a Boston/NE fan. However, I was no sports fanatic and couldn't list a roster. So when I moved to NYC and was inundated with Rangers, Knicks, and of course, Yankees fans, my Boston cheers were silenced. And I must be honest, when I am asked to a Knicks/Rangers/Yankees game, I won't turn down an invite because I love, love going to sports games. Everything from hockey to football to baseball, I want to go and I want to be part of the crowd and cheer for a team and bask in the American glory of it all.

Needless to say, my loyalties are slowly switching. My brother, father, best friend since I was 10, and basically all my high school friends will not greet this transition well. I am prepared for that. Yesterday, while sitting a few rows back from third base, sipping on a cold beer, basking in the sunlight, and cheering for Montero's first home run, I couldn't help but grow an attachment to the Yankees. Plus, B has season tickets and he won't let me within two feet of them if I pledge allegiance to the Sox (same goes for Rangers, and I am sucker for hockey players). Sorry I'm not sorry - New York is becoming my home now and the cheerleader in me wants to root for the home team. As I sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" this Labor Day, sitting next to the NY Fire Dept crew wearing memorial 9/11 Tshirts, among fans boasting their navy and white, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of patriotism and pride I hadn't felt in a long time. Baseball truly is an American Classic, no matter who you're rooting for.

On our way back to the car, I made a street purchase, bought myself a navy hat, and wore it proudly into the bustling streets of Manhattan.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Pumped Up Kicks

Last Thursday, I awoke to one of life's simple joys: Calendar Reminders! Only this time, instead of reminding me to send an email, cancel an appointment, or call the damn landlord again, I had a reminder about a concert that I had bought tickets to back in May. After a long, cubed up work week, I was ready to play with my inner hippie and sway to the good beats of Cut Copy & Foster the People. Then I noticed something - this concert was in Brooklyn. Prospect Park to be exact. I must admit now, I have not yet made it to Brooklyn (unless one very stressful Ikea trip counts) but the idea of an outdoor concert in hipster Brooklyn sounded like an ideal Thursday night. As twilight fell across Manhattan, I made my way with three girlfriends across the river and into the hip, up and coming, wildly talked about borough.

The park had been roped off into a smaller area and the lines for beer were of course, ridiculously long, but it was a sight. Faint sunlight filtered in through the shady trees casting a glow across all the happy hipster faces. And then I heard the sweet tunes of Foster the People (the real reason I came to this concert) and I was enchanted. If you have not pleasured your ears with their new album, Torches, get on that. Better yet, if you have not joined the Spotify user database, do that first. My obsession with this new application has made cubelife painless (well, almost). Ever since the Corporate Crackdown, the likes of Pandora and Grooveshark were rudely taken from me. So, Spotify.

Anyways, Foster the People, their cool, subdued sound brings you back to another era. The beats create a spark of energy through your body so that first you're tapping your foot, rolling the shoulders...and then BAM! You are full body concert dancing. The pleasure is all in the music. They are fabulous. Cut Copy, as always, are a solid act bordering on the techno genre. They are more of a mood band where as Foster the People, you can stick them in your pocket (i.e. ipod) and wander the city feeling enlightened by their sweet voices and cool notes. Into the night we danced, mouthed words we didn't know, and watched the sun glide into twilight and slip quietly into darkness....

My advice: for a summer twilight experience, go see a concert outdoors and let the music and the fresh air revive you from all those office AC freezers.