Highbrow


Yesterday we took a little road trip about 70 miles up the Hudson Valley for a three-tiered adventure, each leg of which cost us a bargain-basement $10.

First we arrived at the Dia:Beacon, a celebrated contemporary art center on the west bank of the Hudson River. Friends had described the place to us before, but nothing could really prepare us for the sheer scale of this museum. This former box factory has a staggering 300,000 square feet of gallery space, lit almost entirely by natural light from the sawtooth skylights that cover most of the building. The galleries in the spooky basement are lit mainly by the art, which was mostly neon light sculptures and film installations by Bruce Nauman. We wandered through the building for a few hours, awed equally by the art (my favorites were the galleries devoted to Agnes Martin and Sol Lewitt; Will was having fun with Richard Serra and Michael Heizer) and the unbelievable sweep of open space. Unfortunately, photography isn’t allowed there, and there seems to be a dearth of photos on the gallery’s Web site. So you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Next we headed back across the river and about ten miles south to the Storm King Art Center, which again bowled us over with its scale. This unusual museum is actually a 500-acre sculpture park (for my local folks, that’s bigger than Prospect Park, to give you an idea) with enormous sculptures that would certainly never fit inside any building and would really be out of scale in most traditional sculpture gardens. See, for example, Mark di Suvero’s Pyramidian:

Those are full-grown (20- to 30-foot) trees to the left of this piece. I was absolutely transfixed and spent most of my time there hanging out at the base of this sculpture. Click on the photo for the full slideshow. This place was really amazing.

Following that, we headed back up to Beacon to watch the Hudson Valley Renegades get a thorough pounding from the Staten Island Yankees (click on picture for full photoset).

Despite the home team’s poor showing, the game was attended by a record 5,111 fans, about 5,000 of whom seemed to be small children. There were goofy little contests and give-aways between each inning, silly sound effects spilled from the loudspeakers every few seconds, and many people were waving stuffed raccoons in the air (the mascot is Rascal the Raccoon). It was a fun, small-town night out–many people seemed to know each other, kids were having fun, and nobody seemed to mind very much that their team was getting schooled.

So for a total of $30 each in admission fees, we managed a solid eight hours of entertainment and new experiences. It pays to get out of the city every now and then.

It’s been a pretty busy weekend of fun new things, although the sudden stifling heat makes it seem like I’ve been moving through quicksand. A quick selection of photos follows; click on each for a full slideshow.

Friday was Will’s birthday, so we had a few friends over for drinks and a trip out to L&B Spumoni Garden for pizza and ice cream:

Saturday we rode our bikes out to Brighton Beach to seek out a particular brand of vodka–it was fun but there was nothing really visually noteworthy on this outing aside from the wicked sunburn that developed on my shoulders.

Today we made our first trip out to Governor’s Island, that odd little patch of earth out in the middle of New York Harbor that has only offered limited access to the general public in the past few years. Prior to that it had been a pretty closed-off fort and then military base for the past 200 years. The occasion was to see our friend Gabriel read from his latest novel. We took a few hours to stroll the grounds and take in the really weird sculptures:

Freaky! But if you click on the photo, it’ll take you to the full slideshow that gives you a much less menacing overview of the place.

Returning to Manhattan (I originally wrote mainland, but Manhattan’s an island, too!), we headed to the other half of the Battery Terminal to check out David Byrne’s “Playing the Building” installation:

This is the slideshow most worth clicking through. Mr. Byrne happened upon this abandoned space and decided it had great muscial potential. So he gutted this organ and ran wires out of it to various pipes, radiators, and columns throughout the building, so that pressing the keys unleashes this cacaphony that sounds like a construction site crossed with a haunted house crossed with melancholy pan flutes. This is one of the better conceptual/interactive works of art I’ve seen. I may have to go back when it’s not 100 degrees.

Back when I lived in Bushwick (not East Williamsburg), I used to take the rusty old J train to work. I’d get off at the Bowery and walk west along Spring Street to my office. That half of the street is pretty drab for SoHo–all the chichi boutiques and cute little cafes are on the western half, on the other side of Broadway. The eastern stretch has a few bars and pizzerias, but generally lacks charm. A bright spot on my walk, though, was checking out the window at the Jen Bekman Gallery, a handkerchief-size space that always featured interesting shows of moody photographs or thickly textured paintings. It was rarely open when I walked by early in the morning or after sunset, but I was always rooting for what looked like a friendly, upretentious gallery that wasn’t a part of the big Chelsea art industry. Ms. Bekman is featured today in a nice article in the New York Times, and now I’m even more impressed. The art world can be tough, and it’s encouraging to see someone making a good go of it.

I guess that doesn’t happen until December 31, but tonight was my fifth and final night of partying out of six nights. And it was the best party of them all, my own included. The site of revelry? MoMA’s staff party, which I have stupidly been skipping for the past three years. The food, setting, people, music–everything was fantastic. I danced without feeling like a dork for the first time in ages. I got to know casual acquaintances better and made a few new connections, some of whom might be able to help me grub up some more work. And even if they don’t, they were very cool and worth getting to know. Tonight was a perfect example of how stupid it is for me not to accept all invitations.

After our big Monday night on the water, we had a quiet Tuesday evening, followed by a gorgeous night on the town with Will’s father. Aristides has long kept season tickets with the Metropolitan Opera, so we met up with him last Wednesday to see Le Nozze di Figaro. First we had a preshow dinner (and dessert at intermission) at the lovely¬† Grand Tier Restaurant overlooking Lincoln Center’s famous plaza. We made it to our seats by the third bell, and the seats? Second row from the orchestra, just to the left of the conductor; we were close enough for it to feel like a private performance. The sets, costumes, acting, singing were spectacular, all the more so because everyone seemed to be having such fun (Will remarked on how nice it was to see an opera in which nobody dies). It’s nice when virtuosity doesn’t have to be so deadly serious. And after we left we were treated to more Mozart on the subway platform by a surly flute player who would take breaks to ask for donations to “make it worth his while” (who asked him to be there in the first place?). It was a hell of a late night, but worth the under-eye circles the next day.

Last week was largely uneventful–we picked up the pieces from the CMJ Marathon week, and I spent Wednesday evening out with a friend to attend the opening reception for MoMA’s exhibition of Seurat drawings. Then on Saturday I worked there again and dropped by the same friend’s apartment so she could color my hair (the box said “toasted almond,” which apparently means “grunge-era auburn”) and I could cook her dinner since, like most New Yorkers, she doesn’t cook. She had come across an intriguing recipe for sweet potato soup, so we made that, and it was quite delicious. Recipe follows–I don’t know the source, so I apologize to whomever developed it for the plagiarism. Also, we followed it pretty much to the letter (used yams instead of sweet potatoes), but speculated about interesting variations; those ideas follow the original recipe.

Sweet Potato, Chestnut, and Bacon Soup
1 large head of garlic
3 lbs. sweet potato, peeled and chopped
6 C chicken stock
8 strips bacon
30 fresh sage leaves
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne
250 g cooked chestnut, chopped

Roast the head of garlic in the ordinary fashion. That is, by cutting off
the top, pouring in olive oil, wrapping it in aluminum foil, and sticking
it in a 375F oven for about an hour.

Boil the sweet potato in the stock for 15-20 minutes, with salt to taste.

In the meantime, slowly cook the bacon – you want to render out as much
fat as you can without burning it. Then pour off the fat (we save ours in
a can in the freezer, because it always comes in handy eventually). Chop
the bacon into bits.

Add the sage, garlic, and cayenne to the soup. Puree until fairly smooth.
Then, stir in the chestnut and bacon.

Variations:

Hot Italian sausage (removed from casing and crumbled), instead of bacon. Do not use cayenne, halve the sage.

Subsitute pancetta for the bacon.

Use a few sprigs of rosemary, simmered with yams, instead of sage (remove
sprigs before puree)

Caramelized onions instead of roasted garlic.

Garnish with splash of dry sherry before serving.

…means it’s the New Yorker Festival! I was too slow on the uptake last year to get into any of the quick-to-sell-out events, so I was determined to make it to a few this year. I didn’t make it to any of the Friday events (meaning I missed out on Jhumpa Lahiri, Zadie Smith, Orhan Pamuk, Jonathan Lethem, and any number of other fascinating people, but oh well…), but last night we attended John C. Reilly’s Q&A at the Cedar Lake Dance Studios in Chlesea. He’s long been a favorite of mine, and I had fun listening to him reminisce about his early career, approaches to different roles, and so on. At the end, we were treated to a mini-concert of songs from his upcoming film, Walk Hard, a parody on the glut of recent musical biopics. Photo below of him singing the title song:

reilly.jpg

As a bonus, director Judd Apatow popped in at the end to shout out requests.

Then today, I met up with my scientist friend to attend a talk by Dr. Oliver Sacks (best known for Awakenings), who discussed his new book, Musicophilia, which was given to us as a parting gift. He was all charming and twinkly and told great stories about the power music has to transcend or transform otherwise profound neurological deficits. He very politely submitted to a modest stage rush at the end of his talk:

oliversacks.jpg

And now that that’s all over, I need to get back to work (yes, on a Sunday, boo).

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