While the rest of the world has been focused on matters of weighty import (Iraq, the candidates, the State of the Union, Oscar nominations), I took a time out last week to host the final stage of my mother's six-month long eightieth birthday celebration (seated lunch for thirty Ladies for which I have Suzanne Goin to thank for the great menu from Sunday Suppers at Lucques).
Tucked between the fragrant interstices of the puff pastry of the wild mushroom tart I was rolling out at five am the morning of the party and the foamy bubbles of the crème anglaise that I tackled the night before, were brief minutes of New York hooky to catch some of the new culture on offer as both the weird January weather (and occasionally, my spirits) yo-yoed wildly from springtime (balm) to frigid (snowflakes) within four short days.
Ed Schlossberg has attempted to transform one of my least favorite buildings in Manhattan, the Time Warner Center, (a suburban mall in not very elegant disguise), into the Home of the Future. As she was dutifully orange-braceleted on our way in through the pup tent in front of the building, my erudite companion shuddered and said it reminded her of the World's Fair which indeed it did, though I remember being much more excited at seeing the GE pavilion, which was one of my favorites. The crush of people (execs, she rightly surmised, who had merely descended from the upper Time Warner floors) were mostly there to see Caroline Kennedy ( Mrs. Schlossberg), I think, and drink martinis so it was hard to make out what, other than product placement for their cable systems, he really had in mind. What he doesn't address is that the Home of the Future will most likely be filled by a single parent struggling to make ends meet with meager access to child and health care, someone who probably can't afford the cable connection in the first place. (While the French have met their reproductive quotas, refugee children from former French colonies have no place to live at all.) I'm wondering if Ed or Time Warner are willing to think outside the (cable) box about any of these less sexy concerns.
I had had ample time to contemplate the Home of the Future since I was cooking the lunch in a Kitchen of the Past (stove needing match lighting forcing you to simultaneously reach in and risk singing your hand as you attempt to keep your head from getting blown away by the gas, my grandmother's Kitchen Aid mixer with a bowl that does not like to be cleaved from its stand, a Cuisinart from the very first iteration--you try pureeing fennel and kabocha squash soup for thirty without a handle!). Though my mother is a customer of Time Warner cable (a monopoly whose telephone help staff I often confer with on her behalf), she thinks as long as equipment performs the most basic function it isn't worth replacing, no matter how it looks (nicked, stained, dented, operation dependent on a great pair of biceps), a solution that sounds environmentally friendly but makes for heavy weather when you're actually trying to get the food out for a large group.
The Doug Aitken preem at MOMA that next offered respite from the chopping and dicing (can you call an Arctic-worthy high-end wannabe drive-in a premiere?) had a young crowd suited up for the chill outside and a select, older crowd huddling inside the adjacent newly opened Cullman Education building. The films projected on the courtyard walls and graced with performances by Tilda Swinton and Donald Sutherland, look great and will be on view for months to come, hopefully in warmer weather when you can actually sit outside in the Sculpture Garden without freezing your buns off and contemplate their many layers. (Maybe the Home of the Future will have its very own projectionist and In and Out Burger and we can avoid the entire problem of cable hook ups and cooking all together).
The next day, I returned to see the very didactic exhibit organized around Manet's painting of the Execution of Maximilian. Manet was a passionate nineteenth century genius, a visual blogger commenting freely on political and social events of the day. Besides the famous Goya tableau that is recognized as one of the artistic inspirations for his treatment of this difficult subject was the tragic funeral of his friend Baudelaire and that sad scene, plus the version of the Execution from the Boston Museum (adjacent to each other) are wondrous, dynamic canvases. Maximilian, (a plant of Napoleon III), and his two generals face a Juarez firing squad in Queretaro, Mexico whose pristine uniforms and rigid formation belie the violence of their death mission. One can't help but think of the hooded hangmen taunting Sadaam during his botched execution, a twenty first century image that comes perilously close to appearing even more sadistic than the haunting image of Maximilian's nasty demise. (closes January 29th)
But the uncontested high point of my brief NY cultural minute and a half was a stop at the exhibition in the dimly-lit coffered ground floor gallery space in the NY Public Library about the art of Japanese book-making called Ehon. A look at the intimate but comprehensive work by centuries of astonishing (please forgive this adjective that was delisted by the NYT Book Review Sunday but really, it's the only one that will do) Japanese artists who manage to make the personal, political, sexual and artistic all come together in a seamless, entrancing whole, this is visual blogging of the highest order. Each vitrine is a portal into a special world of plants, animals, courtesans, mountains, eye candy that teases and delights. This whole collection is owned by the NY Public and makes their recent painting deacessioning plausible if this is what they are indeed spending their money on. (closes February 4--worth a whole trip to NY just to see this.)
I could not procure a ticket to Part two of the Stoppard trilogy at Lincoln Center since they were rehearsing Part Three last week so two other new plays stepped neatly into the breach. The new Theresa Rebeck, The Scene (at the Second Stage) has a first act that is sharp and so very funny and takes the sting out of the meandering, high-decibel second act. The two acting standouts, Tony Shaloub as a tortured, confused, philandering husband, and Anna Camp as the valley girl-high (ambitious networker) meets valley girl-low( homewrecker of the future)-object of his affection, make their bumpy ride our smooth sailing into a lot of close-to-the-bone laughs.
Sadly, A Spanish Play, (still in previews at the Classic Stage) with another stellar cast (Zoe Caldwell, Larry Pine) and accomplished director (John Turturro) makes one really head scratch to figure out what they all saw in this piece of material. I have no idea how they will get this into shape by February first, their opening date, since there is a conspicuous absence of there there, even if you imagine that Yasmina Reza's play is about anything other than mind numbing soliloquies performed against a brick wall of hand held video of same. There is no intermission, so exit, despite the long winded preamble by a Spanish speaking announcer that pointed out egress in case of fire at the beginning of the performance, is impossible, though I could see the yawning and clearly befuddled faces all around me had inclinations to abandon the dubious production.
Much more engaging were the readings of the clever poems and limericks written by friends and family during the tribute to my mother. As she enters her ninth decade she leaves behind a dramatic trail of ehon all her own--paintings, books and writings-- that help capture and define the twentieth century for her children and grandchildren and display a woman, now made cranky by her hearing and memory loss, whose beauty and intelligence animated her homes which incorporated every major tech development of the 20th century but which left plenty of room for the old-fashioned pastimes of reading and mixing your colors.
In the meantime, gather your loved ones around for a bite of something homemade (in Suzanne's book, Roasted apples with Calvados P. 361) and turn on the tube in your Home of the Present to watch our President duck the issues in the State of the Union and to learn from Jim Webb (and eventually the many candidates) how they will address the thorny, more complicated, real issues (aging, children, poverty, water supply, energy consumption etc.) circling our dwellings.