Culture: July 2002 Archives

I lived in Providence, Rhode Island, for twenty years, most of that time very much in the midst of an extrordinary community of Cape Verdeans. Cape Verdeans? Most Americans have no reference whatsoever for this part of our immigrant history and national heritage, but part of New England knows it well.

A story in today's NYTimes about a small nineteenth-century sailing ship brought back memories of Fox Point in Providence and of the Ernestina in particular. Even almost forty years ago, since it was already an era described as the jet age, it was almost impossible for me to register that this noble little ship had been functioning as an immigrant transport. I visited it in port in the early sixties, and I was astounded by the pluck, no, the enormous stamina and courage of those it brought across the Atlantic to a new world and a new life.

I was a white guy grad student living only blocks away in a modern city! How could I possibly understand what this was all about? I wanted to know more, but my shyness and the Cape Verdeans' sense of privacy precluded much interaction with that part of the larger Portuguese-heritage community in southeastern New England. My biggest successes were friendships and affairs with Portugese boys whose families had come from Portugal or the Azores, but not Cape Verde. For at least those blessings, thank Mother Nature for the tenacity of homosexual desire!

I am now living in New York in the midst of a lot more stories and many more immigrants, of the past and of today. I think I am able to understand this thing a little more. These are the real All-American heroes. The rest of us are living on their dreams and the dreams of our own immigrant parents.

"Spiritual autobiography" is not my thing, but still, the mind reels, thinking about the other possibilities, after reading an author describe how he simply slips his own books onto store shelves, rather than wait for the middleman to get to him.

To the Editor:

As a book lover and a book thief, I found your article about book theft ("The Best Stealer List," Making Books column, July 18) riveting.

My habit started when I self-published a spiritual autobiography about my experiences at Union Theological Seminary, only to discover that it was virtually impossible to get bookstores to carry it. That's when I start stealing in reverse (that is, stocking the shelves with my own book).

While some steal for drugs, others for money, some of us — and I'm sure that I'm not alone — steal from ourselves for a broader readership.
Summit, N.J., July 19, 2002

Not in our neighborhood, surely?

The opening in Battery Park City of a memorial to victims of the Irish famine of 1845-52, near the Living Memorial to the Holocaust, suggests that Americans are more comfortable remembering others' violations of human rights than our own.

The Irish famine and the Holocaust played important roles in New York's history. Thousands of immigrants fled to safety here. These events certainly deserve commemoration. Yet their impact pales in comparison with slavery's. In the colonial era, New York was a major center of slave labor. Slaves represented more than 10 percent of the population in 1750. In the first half of the 19th century, the city grew rich financing, insuring and shipping the cotton produced by Southern slaves.

When will we see, in this city and elsewhere in the country, memorials to the victims of slavery, our home-grown crime against humanity?

The City has given outright to the American Craft Museum the distinctive 1964 building, 2 Columbus Circle, now vacant, which was originally designed for Huntington Hartford's Gallery of Modern Art (his private collection of modern, non-abstact art--a fascinating story in itself). The Museum now intends to alter it beyond recognition.

Incredibly, the structure is not protected as a landmark, in spite of its wonderful historical significance, geometric purity, its landmark presence and its striking aesthetic. What are they thinking? A letter to the NYTimes attempts to shame our cultural guardians for their cultural neglect.

In "Craft Project at Columbus Circle" (news article, July 12), Holly Hotchner, the director of the American Craft Museum, makes the comment that the interior walnut paneling of 2 Columbus Circle might be retained, since it is "a museum about materials," while stating that the iconic Vermont marble facade will have to go. Is this a judgment about the quality of marble versus wood as a material, or merely a dodge to gloss over a contemplated faddish mutilation of one of New York's most recognized buildings?

Edward Durell Stone's Gallery of Modern Art is a touchstone of Modern architecture, an important example of the path not taken [my italics]. The building is an idiosyncratic exploration of architectural materials, shapes and forms. If that is not an example of craft worthy of being preserved, then what is?

Actually, the path seems eventually to have been taken after all. I think we call it "Postmodernism," and near the end of a long and fascinating career Stone might have gotten there first, almost like Columbus.

I'm posting the NYTimes' editorial take on the just-released Lower Manhattan Development Corporation's draft proposals for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site, because, coming from the establishment newspaper, it clearly shows the scale of the insult hurled at all of after we were made to await the product of ten months of behind-doors corporate planning by the people who remain convinced they know what's best for New York.

... these are dreary, leaden proposals that fall far short of what New York City — and the world — expect to see rise at ground zero. The restrictions on the designers included a requirement that the site be packed with a full 11 million square feet of office space, 600,000 square feet of retail space and another 600,000 square feet for a hotel. The result was, in the main, several variations on the theme of a park hemmed in by a bunch of very large commercial buildings.


Despite all the talk about a downtown that would be alive 24 hours a day with cultural institutions, entertainment and residential developments, these features, which make an urban area live and breathe, are missing. Instead there is office space, far more of it than the city is likely to need in the foreseeable future, and enough large-scale construction to keep the entire neighborhood in chaos for decades.


For some time now the families of victims have asked that the footprints of the two towers be reserved for a memorial. But the proposals that resulted from that directive seemed the least imaginative of all.

I won't even bother to bring up the subject of art and architecture, since the full banality, if not the urban insanity, of the actual proposals has otherwise left me in speechless rage.

That unnatural condition is not likely to prevail for very long.

Dean Daderko either does or does not have the hottest gallery in New York, and Toni Schlesinger either does or does not just write a regular column about where people live in New York.

I would say yes and no, respectively, but I would prefer to describe them both as remarkable artists in their own right.

You can visit Dean at Parlor Projects* almost every sunday, and you can visit Toni in "SHELTER" usually once a week in the Village Voice.

[Toni] This is such a visually advanced room but if you look out the window you can see women in house slippers discussing arthritis. . . . . Does your landlord care that you have a gallery here?

[Dean] It doesn't particularly bother him, I think. He has a butcher shop. I've had about 16 exhibitions since January 2000. . . . . Inhwan Oh did a piece called Things of Friendship. He went through my house, looking in the medicine cabinet, in drawers. Anything he found that matched something at his house, he'd set aside—Elmer's wood glue, a gay travel guide, some Wisk. At the end, there were 25, 30 objects in common. He set up the objects in two piles, almost like mirror images. The artists tend to take advantage of the fact that this is a domestic space. (Tom [a friend of Dean's who has been in the kitchen] comes out and says: "I'm going to go now.")

[Toni] You were so quiet back there. (Tom) I was writing down everything you were saying. The meta-interview.


* 214 Devoe Street (bet. Bushwick and Humbolt) 917-723-8626

Great art for you, emergency medical relief for a beleagured Palestinian population, and a little recognition for some brilliant and courageous artists and the people who organized an extraordinary event at White Box gallery over the last several weeks:

The "Come to Life" benefit auction ended last evening, and we were fortunate to be able to help a woefully undersolicited charity at the same time we were able to take home a fantastic art thing, but there are still great pieces in all media available for purchase.

The reason that not everything was snatched up last night is simply the fact that there was virtually no publicity. The works were all donated by the artists (the list should accordingly be considered a roll of honor), and only one curator, but not one gallery and not one representative of the media had both the desire and the courage to be connected with the event in any way. Some had expressed sympathy or support privately but confessed they could not afford to announce the fact or do anything which might connect them to the benefit, because of fear of repercussions.

This is appalling, but I suppose it should not have been a surprise.

What, are the Palestinians all lepers now?

If you have anything of an art budget and any interest in bold new work,
you can affirm your own commitment to justice at the same time by running to the phone as soon as you can and calling Noritoshi Hirakawa, who is handling the remains of the event, at (718) 302-4199, or talk to me for more background.

We made it in time this year! Saw the Williamsburg "Dancing of the Giglio" this hot sunday afternoon. Not just saw it, but were almost in the middle of the 100-plus beefy Italian guys who shouldered the four-ton monster tower in an exercise of testosterone, some 1600 years of tradition, real devotional piety, community and cultural pride, and good sport.

By the way, they really do dance under there, and turn about! Here they are twirling the whole steel and papier mache monster with the parish priest, the sound man and an entire brass band onboard along with the saints. It's something like a Neapolitan Tarantella, not surprisingly.

Ok, I was teary for a moment, just as they first lifted off. Their focus was pretty impressive, and I'm a sucker for maleness restrained. Also a history buff.

One of the links on Bloggy may be unique in addressing the problematic side of this male-oriented and occasionally self-described "sacred act of devotion and penance."

"[Documentary film director Tony De Nono] is obviously a fan of the feast and its importance to the community, he also points out that women have been excluded from lifting the Brooklyn Giglio, though their sisters in Nola have lifted, albeit in "ceremonial lifts."

"In Brooklyn the question still seems doubtful if women lifters will ever be allowed to partake in this glorious festival as lifters," Badalucco narrates. "But since the Brooklyn structure is made up of unpliable, unforgiving solid metal beams with pointed corners that dig in the shoulder, the question is whether the women would ever want to lift this towering structure." (The beams in other Giglio structures, in Queens and other tri-state feasts, are made of wood.)

De Nonno said that while compiling footage for his documentary, he witnessed little girls "sneaking" under the children's Giglio, disguising their long hair under hats so they could participate. In 1999, the girls were officially asked for the first time to participate in the Brooklyn children's Giglio dance.

Oh, we also noticed that the loaves of bread distributed as part of Fesival tradition are of exactly the same shape and fold as those found in the two-millenia-old ruins of Pompei, on the other side of Vesuvius.

Don't miss Bloggy's images! Much more than just zeppoles.

This page is an archive of entries in the Culture category from July 2002.

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