Friday, April 30, 2010

"I'm Not Here to Paint Pretty Pictures"

I have always been a Rothko fan, but without constructive or intellectual reason. I just love his use of primary colors, his interjection with black and his seeming simplicity of form-vertical or horizontal strokes.

Tonight, I learnt a whole new side to this man and I love him even more. I have just got back from the West End production of 'Red' now on Broadway, with Alfred Molina as Rothko and Eddie Redmayne as Ken, his ever suffering assistant. It is through Rothko's masterclass with Ken that the audience really learns about the meaning of the black in his paintings and the eternal struggle of an artist to admonish both critic and fan, but also to be emotionally and financially dependent upon them.

Molina dominates the stage as the towering, barrel-chested monolith that Rothko was. Last time I saw Molina was on celluloid as Diego Rivera, another hulk of a man, in "Frida". Kind of interesting that he now plays another conflicted artist.

The play "Red" is set in 1958 at a defining moment in Rothko's career, when he was asked to paint a series of murals for the now iconic New York restaurant The Four Seasons (not to be confused with the hotel chain). It was to built in the new Seagram Building, designed by architectural titans Philip Johnson and Mies Van Der Rohe.

The commission was one of the highest for the day and certainly the largest Rothko had been offered. However, he was under the impression that his murals would be displayed in the lobby, not the restaurant. When he went there to dine once it was finished and saw the type of person who patronized it - rich and clever "monkeys" and jackals" who were more interested in discussing business and what was on their plate rather than on the walls - he threw the commission back at the architects. This was after completing all 40 canvases. "I hope to paint something that will ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch that eats in that room". 

Ultimately he donated 9 of the works to the Tate in London in 1969, a year before the black swallowed the red in his life and he committed suicide.

Apart from being mesmerized by the fractious, arrogant, insecure but brilliant artist that Molina brings alive on stage, you become involved in the creation of Rothko's art itself. Paint is mixed on stage, canvases stretched and prepped, brushes and rags collected, and all this energy being played out against a blaring background of intense classical music. In one electric scene, both artist and lackey attack a canvas in tandem, saturating it from top to bottom in red - or scarlet, or crimson or plum-mulberry-magenta-burgundy-salmon-carmine-carnelian-coral - "anything but red!" as Rothko rages in a heated moment. This two minute explosion of activity exhilarates the audience and surrounds them with the passion of the artist.

I have not been exhilarated like tonight by a piece of theatre for a long time. If you are in New York before end June, I implore you to get tickets - if you can. If not and you happen to be in Moscow, 13 of Rothko's works including his monumental studies for the Seagram Murals are on display at Dasha Zhukova's Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture. This is the first time a Rothko exhibition has been mounted in Moscow, a lifetime after this Russian Jew fled his homeland with his family in 1913.

Images: guardian, imdb, lindraxa, dan dickinson

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Mob

A fab new museum has just opened in the East Village in honor of the American mobster. The Museum of the American Gangster traces the Prohibition era and the role crime has played in shaping New York City.

The Museum is housed in a former "speakeasy" which belonged to gangster Frank Hoffman, one of the major importers of Canadian beer during prohibition. His office was housed under the speakeasy, so while he counted the cash with a cigar in his mouth, his business partner Walter Scheib was entertaining upstairs in a tux!

Highlights of the collection include original newspapers, documents and photographs from the prohibtion era, a Tommy machine gun found in the speakeasy when it was sold in the 60's and vintage whiskey bottles. Apparently when the owner's father bought the place in 1964, he stumbled upon 2 locked safes downstairs, one which had $2 million of gold currency inside! Its owner and origin are still a mystery. These safes are now on display, as is the barber chair from the Park Sheraton where a mob boss was whacked in 1957. Frank Sinatra once sang here as he waited on tables, Trotsky lived in the gallery space and infamous men with names like Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Al Capone all propped themselves up at one time along the mahogany bar, where bootleg booze flowed and so did the blood of their enemies. Riveting stuff!

Images: berg properties, museum of the american gangster

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Le Perche

I know this blog is about New York in all its glory and splendor, but I have just discovered such a special place in Normandy, I have to share.

The area of Le Perche lies only 2 hours from Paris in Lower Normandy, not far from Chartres. It is an area that not even alot of Parisians - or Normans for that matter - know about. Great for travelers who hate the tourist buses and lines of Asians taking photos of everything. Apart from the fact that it is a series of ancient villages and manoirs in an area declared a 'Parc Naturel', another reason I wanted to go there is because it is home to the noble Percheron horse.

The countryside is stunning. I was there a little early to see all the oaks and beech trees in full leaf, but I saw plenty of blossom in gently undulating fields, with cattle and sheep grazing in bright green pastures;

acres of rapeseed;

rambling laneways with mossy stone walls;

wonderful, steeply pitched old tiled roofs;

and Rimpelstiltskin stone turrets on old chateaus.

After much research, I happened upon a divine little inn to stay at called Villa Fol Avril. It is located in the beautiful town of Moutiers-au-Perche and has been renovated without losing the original building's quintessential charm. They have a fantastic restaurant there - brilliant if you don't have a car - and the owners go out of their way to make you feel welcome.

I had room #8 in the attic. This is the view I had out one window, over the famous Le Perche roofs:

And this is out the other.

There is a beautiful huge garden to read a book in when you are sick of exploring,

and the owner breeds Percherons! This is Universe, a naughty 2 year old stallion who will one day turn grey.

The region is an idyllic place for those who prefer to be wakened by birds rather than sirens, and love to walk and cycle through undeveloped countryside. The fact it is so close to Paris makes it easy for a weekend trip and you come back feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. I will definitely be returning.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Stuck in Paris

Not a bad place to be stuck while air travel is in chaos. Was supposed to leave Sunday. Leaving today instead. In the meantime, here's a round up of volcano jokes seen online, courtesy of the Daily Tele:
  • It’s a bit early for Iceland volcano jokes. We should wait awhile for the dust to settle
  • I see that America has declared war on Iceland. Apparently they are accusing them of harbouring a “weapon of ash eruption”
  • It was the last wish of the Icelandic economy that its ashes be spread over Europe.
  • Iceland goes bankrupt, then it manages to set itself on fire. This has insurance scam written all over it.
  • Iceland, we wanted your cash, not your ash.
  • Waiter, there's volcanic ash in my soup.
  • Richard Curtis is working on a new rom-com about people stuck in an airport who fall in love. The working title is "Lava Actually".
  • I came out my house yesterday and was hit on the head by a bag of frozen sausages, a chocolate gateau and some fish fingers. I realised it must be the fallout from Iceland.
  • Woke this morning to find every surface in the house covered in a layer of dust and a foul stench of sulphur in the air. No change, I’ve been married to that bone-idle slob for 20 years.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


In Paris and Moutiers au Perche, Normandy for 5 days x

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spring Sunday

Another magnificent spring Sunday. The village is still in full bloom, even after a 31degree day last Wednesday that depleted most of the daffodils.

Prospect Park in Brooklyn was full of sun seekers, magnolia blossom and wild violets.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

10 things I love about Spring in New York

  1. The burst of pink and white blossom in every park, downtown street and rare garden
  2. The patchwork of daffodils, bluebells, crocuses and jonquils 
  3. New Yorkers emerging from their winter fashion chrysalis of black and more black, to sudden joyful splashes of color
  4. Cafes and restaurants unrolling their awnings and setting up their outdoor chairs and tables
  5. Piles of people filling those chairs and tables
  6. The sudden heightened energy on the streets as everyone comes out to stroll
  7. Random musicians appearing on street corners, under trees and in the parks
  8. The freedom of riding a bike along the Hudson without having to wear gloves, a beanie and michelin man jacket
  9. The appearance of white asparagus, rhubarb and organic lamb at the Union Square green market
  10. Having a reason to smile at a stranger on the street without them thinking you are a psycho who should be in rehab 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pelham Bay Park

Today was a heavenly 23 degree spring day. It called for a hike through Pelham Bay Park way up in the Bronx.

Pelham Bay Park is the largest park in NY. It offers 2,700 acres of forest, wetlands, rocky coastline and a lovely Long Island Sound beach. Unfortunately my excitement at visiting this enormous park was a little premature, as the trees hadn't even started budding. But I had a great history lesson, learnt alot about the importance of rocks and had an even bigger lesson on the total disregard people in the Bronx have for nature.

First up was Glover's Rock. This giant stone marks the spot of a pivotal battle against the British in 1776. When Washington and his army evacuated NYC after the Battle of Harlem Heights, the British landed thousands of troops and cannons not far from this spot in Pelham Bay Park. The British General, Sir William Howe, had a cunning plan to intercept Washington's underfed, underarmed and dispirited troops retreating along the Bronx River. But sadly for Howe, a certain Colonel John Glover and 800 of his merry men confronted the British and acted as a barrier between the far superior British soldiers and Washington's weak and weary army. Although seriously outnumbered, Glover's men inflicted great casualties on the Brits, and Washington and his army were able to get away. This historical moment is now commemorated by a rock!

Next up, some lovely lagoons and marshes that were once home to the Siwanoy Indians. 9000 acres of this once rich aquatic hunting ground was purchased from the Native Americans by a Mr Pell in 1654.

The trail then wound through what will be in a few months, leafy forest containing oaks and chestnuts, then onto another important rock.

The Siwanoys named this rock "Gray Mare" and it was very scared to them. Apparently this glacial rock was carried to this spot and left here when the ice sheet receded all those millennia ago. However, I'm sure that when the Siwanoys were worshipping this rock in the 1600's, they didn't pollute the marshes nearby like the present natives seem to do.

On the stretch home, the path follows the rocky coastline and you get wonderful views over Long Island Sound along with a lovely blast of salt air. Not sure why, but my camera decided to get artistic at this point in the walk. These following shots all have a blue wash over them. Maybe the camera was as excited as I, to see the sea.

Finally, the forest and coastline end at the fabulous mile long Orchard Beach. Absolutely heaving in summer, it was lovely and empty today.

Whilst I enjoyed this 7 mile hike, I think I will return in late summer when the park looks more like this. It looks like a completely different place:

Images: 13, 14, 15)  andrew cusack, nature calendar, nycgovparks