Archive for the ‘Portico’ Category

Monday Scramble: King

Monday, September 7th, 2009

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New at Portico: On Thursday night — knowing that I’d be involved with moving furniture on Friday morning — I went across the street to the movies, and saw Inglourious Basterds. I was very uncertain about what to expect. Although I liked Jackie Browne, there was something about Pulp Fiction that I disliked very deeply, and I never saw either of the Kill Bills. The new movie, however, is hugely fun. Setting the film in Forties Paris instead of Nineties Los Angeles has a lot to do with it. The sad fact is that, washboards notwithstanding, people used to look a lot better.

The week’s New Yorker story is by Orhan Pamuk, and it made me wish that I could read it in Turkish. As languages go, Turkish is like Japanese — very different from English. (Chinese is practically a member of the same linguistic family, by comparison). Maureen Freely, whose father taught at Robert College, Turkey’s most prestigious institution of higher learning, and who therefore grew up speaking Turkish as well as English (and, on the evidence, a rich, literate Turkish to boot), continues to serve as the writer’s alter ego. I read the other day, at Marginal Revolution, that Mr Pamuk’s new book, The Museum of Innocents, has already appeared in German. What’s with that? Is it the generation of Turkish-ancestry Germans who don’t really understand their parents’ language?

The Book Review was very brief this week. Perhaps our rentrée littéraire will pick up next week. Perhaps the cool weather will catalyse the wholly new approach to book reviewing that the Book Review so desperately needs. Does anyone under forty read it, except for professional reasons?

This week’s book, rather cursorily dealt with, is Niall Ferguson’s objectionally usefull history of finance, The Ascent of Money. If it were not against all the commandments of my religion (every single one of them, except for the one banning sex with unequals), I would watch the TV version of the book, just to gloat over its flashy thinness. As it is, I can barely contain the horrified glee that Harvard’s hiring of such a media-savvy professor occasions. As for the book, it’s something that, for all of its problems and drawbacks, ought to be read by every intelligent person.

Monday Scramble: Zoom!

Monday, July 27th, 2009

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It’s may be too early to tell (we’re awfully credulous about “jokes”), but the Manhattan Airport Foundation’s plan to transform Central Park into an international airport, which raised blood pressures all over the Blogosphere last week, is probably a hoax.

A video that seemed to capture everyone’s fancy was “Jill and Kevin’s Big Day.” We confess to shedding copious tears of happiness for the young couple, but then what we saw was a bridal party that was celebrating a marriage. Some viewers saw a crudely amateur performance. The dissonance between these views can disturb any wedding that’s at all out of the way, but probably only in the developed West, where a large corps of professionally-trained performers sets a very hight standard for — hoofing.

New at Portico: This week’s Book Review review. Yes! We took care of it yesterday, in about an hour. Back in 2005, when the feature was introduced, it took about eight hours to prepare, which is why we stopped trying to get it out on Sunday.

Weekend Open Thread: Hot Dog!

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

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last Week at Portico: The subjects of this week’s four pages are: Accent on Youth, an MTC revival starring the inimitable David Hyde Pierce; “Idols,” Tim Gautreaux’s story in the current issue of The New Yorker; Tony Scott’s updating of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3; and, of course, the Book Review.

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition): Poorish

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

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It wasn’t the most thrilling weekend in the world, but it did what a weekend ought to do: refresh and restore. It would have done the job a lot better if Kathleen hadn’t been struck by a nasty intestinal flu. Is anything more miserable? Being me, I hated my impotence. The only thing that I could do that was guaranteed to be effective was to leave Kathleen alone.

But I read all of Jeff in Venice, and really liked it; and I concocted another chicken salad, this one with avocados and corn, parsley and cilantro, in a curry mayonnaise. Of course, there was far too much for one.

Now: how boring can I be about my DVD collection? In one sentence: since I no longer have room to keep the DVDs in their plastic boxes, I’m storing them in paper sleeves, with round plastic windows on one side and Dymo labels on the other. It’s all very neat and efficient.

It’s all very neat and efficient, that is, if I know what I’m looking for. Most of the time, I don’t. I paw through the boxes just like anybody else. (I find that the first DVD that captures my interest is the one that I’ll end up watching, so now I just go with it.) In an intermediate phase of disc storage, I kept 250 movies on a bookshelf in the hallway; these were the pictures least likely to require a special frame of mind for viewing. (Consider, as an alternative, Eraserhead. You may be someone who would watch David Lynch’s amazing subcutaneous debut without any prior deliberation, but I’m not.) The rest of the collection — more than half — was kept in vinyl albums from Staples. Each album held 96 discs, variously grouped: Movies made before 1970. Foreign-language DVDs. TV series (I have almost all of the Inspector Morses. ) I would leaf through the albums in search of something to watch. Sometimes, the relevant information about a DVD is printed in maddeningly small letters around the inner rim, but, for the most part, each DVD is a kind of poster for itself.

For reasons that I’ll spare you right now, the prospect of flipping through the drawers of paper sleeves and uniform Dymo labels had to be rejected out of hand. If nothing else, it would subject the sleeves and the drawers to a lot of wear and tear.

I had a brainstorm. As your reward for wading through the preceding verbiage, a picture will tell the rest of the story. My very provisional ”Top 20” list, at Portico.

Other “categories” to come:

  • Top 100
  • Screwball comedies
  • Films noirs.
  • Depressing movies
  • Alfred Hitchcock
  • Really scary!
  • Corporate sci-fi
  • “Why did I buy this?”

Conceivably, any one movie could appear in all of the categories — that’s the beauty part. For example, Mr and Mrs Smith would appear on both the Screwball Comedy and Alfred Hitchcock pages.

So, I got that going. There is much to be learned about the HTML of tables. I’ll try not to be the one who has to.

Weekend Open Thread: Tricycle

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

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Last Week at Portico: Something of a Noël Coward entry, this, as you will see. ¶ Our Memorial Day weekend was bracketed by two evenings on Broadway, in theatres right round the corner from one another. Blithe Spirit was a must-see, because of its cast, which included Angela Lansbury, Rupert Everett, Deborah Rush, and an actress whom I’ve been trying to see for years, Jayne Atkinson (Christine Ebersole is great, too). God of Carnage was also a must-see because of its cast, but the playwright’s name was certainly a draw. The cast was made up of Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden. The accidental Tony Soprano jokes were a squirt of lemon juice on a great dish. Has there ever been anything like the profusion of great actors on Broadway?

¶ This week’s movie is Easy Virtue, an interesting and not heavyhanded adaptation of a play that Coward wrote in his twenties. In the Twenties. You have to see it, because Kristin Scott Thomas just about sings. ¶ And, of course, the Book Review review.

Weekend Open Thread: Moving

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

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Last Week at Portico: ¶ After months and months and months of not getting it right, I finally forced a final draft of Brian Morton’s The Dylanist to materialize. This makes Mr Morton the first author whose novelistic oeuvre I have written up in toto. All four are lovely books, not infused but positively tanned in a vision of New York as a place where no one ever really dies. ¶ If you know what Jim Jarmusch was up to in No Limits, No Control (a movie billed, at least on gigantic placards at the Angelika, as The Limits of Control), you know how to reach me. Not that I care, particularly; the movie’s really too beautiful for everyday “meaning.” ¶ Touré’s essay on post-blackness may not constitute the best book review imaginable (of Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor), but it’s a must read. When you’re done, check out the Book Review review.

Weekend Update (Friday Edition): Brooklyn

Friday, May 1st, 2009

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I spent most of a soggy afternoon in Brooklyn — without leaving the blue room of my apartment. After the movie (The Limits of Control) and lunch (with Ms NOLA, at the Knickerbocker), Quatorze and I headed uptown to Yorkville. Q was nice enough to hang a couple of pictures, something that it has become very difficult for me to do, given my rigid neck. Even when my neck was as supple as anybody’s, though, I never hung pictures as quickly and neatly as Quatorze.

When the work was done and much admired, I ought to have thanked my friend and sent him on his way, because I had this page to write, among other sitely tasks, not to mention a concert to attend. But it was much more interesting to sink into my chair with a cup of tea and listen to Quatorze’s stories of boyhood in Sunset Park — in the parish of St Catherine of Alexandria, at any rate. One or two of the stories I had heard before, but from other angles, as it were, and other connections. It occurred to me that Quatorze really ought to be writing his stories down. They’re very funny, but they’re also very local. The Brooklyn that he remembers is long gone, and I hope that he’ll take steps to assure that it doesn’t vanish altogether.

When the conversation fell to details about the periphery of Prospect Park, there was only one thing to do: refer to Google Maps. I didn’t know that Quatorze had never spent any time with Google Maps — that he didn’t even know it existed. Hours later, he left the apartment somewhere between fandom and addiction.

Given the weather, and Kathleen’s exhaustion, I made the decision, at about seven, to skip tonight’s chamber recital at the Museum. I regret having to do so, I did have to do so. I might have gone by myself, but the work that hadn’t been done while Quatorze and I searched for the Palais de la Lanterne would have distracted me from the music.

Does anyone know of a blog that follows the Marshall Trial? Times coverage (by John Eligon and James Barron) has been pretty exciting. The opening arguments were spicy: the prosecution all but fingered Charlene Marshall, the defendant’s younger wife (and I am convinced that this case is all about cherchez la Charlene), while the defense proposed that the late Mrs Astor was niggardly about donating her own money to charity — not a tack that I’d have recommended taking. Now, novelist and attorney Louis Auchincloss, a good-enough friend of the late doyenne, takes the stand to make the following flabbergasting but correct assertion:

Mr. Auchincloss said Mrs. Astor could not have been capable of understanding details of a will “if she did not know me.”

The Week at Portico: Those few paragraphs about Waiting for Godot that I mentioned last night may be read here. And of course there’s the Book Review review.

Weekend Update (Friday Edition): Juggling

Friday, April 24th, 2009

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The handymen were here this morning to change the filters on the HVAC units. (I think that that stands for “heating, ventilating, air-conditioning.”) The units are positioned beneath the windows, naturally. So is a lot of furniture, and a great deal of terrifying wiring. The wiring is all mine, but I can’t summon the courage to clean it up.

Certainly not today, when I can hardly see straight. M le Neveu, who is in town this weekend, dropped by last night to pick something up, and I looked so tired that he nicely asked if he could grate the block of cheddar that I had set out for macaroni & cheese. No, I thanked him; grating cheese would keep me standing. I might slip into a coma otherwise.

In any case, I had to stay home and move the furniture for the handymen; so, no Friday movie. I went ahead and did my Saturday cleaning, which made all the more sense in view of tomorrow afternoon’s schedule: I’ll be taking some friends on a tour of the Museum. In the evening, we’ve got Waiting for Godot. D’you remember that National Lampoon Radio hour parody in which a bus pulls up and Godot gets off? “Hi, guys…” I don’t think that we’ll be seeing that version.

The Week at Portico: This week’s four new pages: ¶ Yiyun Li’s quietly remarkable novel, The Vagrants. The more I read about modern China (the novel is set in 1979), the better I understand Beijing’s prickly attitude toward Western misunderstandings. ¶ Christopher Hampton’s 1970 comedy, The Philanthropist, with Matthew Broderick, is packing them in at the American Airlines Theatre. The revival had me daydreaming about Alan Bennett. ¶ Faubourg 36 (marketed here, idiotically, as Paris 36) is the first live-action film to command the uncluttered grace of comic books, and as such it opens a world of new possibilities to the movie musical. ¶ This week’s Book Review review — they ought to have put Animal Spirits, by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, on the cover.

Weekend Update (Friday Edition): Stewardship Under Fire

Friday, April 10th, 2009

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You hear a lot about “stewardship” these days — and you’re sure to hear more. Stewardship is an old mode of thought that is being refitted for unprecedented circumstances. In the past, stewards took care of things on behalf of powerful employers, better known as magnates; stewards constituted, in turn, a very small clutch of employees. Just as there weren’t many magnates, there weren’t many stewards. From now on, though, we’re all going to be stewards, and we’ll be taking care of things on behalf of unborn generations. We don’t really know how this works.

One thing that stands out in Mark Bowden’s Vanity Fair profile of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr, the current ruler of the grand duchy known as The New York Times, is that Mr Sulzberger is an honorable steward, a man who has done everything that he can think of to make sure that the newspaper that he inherited is passed on to readers of the future. As Mr Bowden’s parallel sketch of the parlous state of the newspaper industry in general and the Times in particular makes clear, however, this essentially conservative mission may well be wrong-headed, even disastrous, endangering the very thing that Mr Sulzberger wants to protect.

To their credit, the Sulzbergers have long treated the Times less as a business than as a public trust, and Arthur is steeped in that tradition, rooted in it, trained by it, captive to it. Ever the dutiful son, he has made it his life’s mission to maintain the excellence he inherited—to duplicate his father’s achievement. He is a careful steward, when what the Times needs today is some wild-eyed genius of an entrepreneur.

Glimmering beneath the sparkle of Mr Bowden’s stern but compassionate prose is the sorrow of a young man — nearing sixty, Mr Sulzberger still seems to be young, almost inappropriately so — who is neither a journalist nor a businessman, but only a well-intentioned citizen, trying to steer an institution through rapids that require a cracking expertise in one field or the other (probably business). At only one point does Mr Bowden advance a possible solution.

In fairness, no one has the answer for newspapers. Some, such as former Time managing editor Walter Isaacson, Alan D. Mutter, a former newspaperman and Silicon Valley C.E.O., and Peter Osnos, of PublicAffairs, all of whom have experience as executives, are pushing some form of micro-payment. If the Times, in partnership with the big search-engine companies, got paid a few pennies for every person who clicks on a link to its content, it might replace the old business model for advertising. The price of accessing a single item would be so small that it would hardly be worth the trouble to hunt up a pirated version. Some have suggested that all of the major news providers should band together and withhold their content from the Internet until such a pricing agreement can be put in place. It seems clear that drastic action is required. One top editor at another newspaper put it this way: “Ask yourself this—if the Internet existed and newspapers didn’t, would there be any reason to invent newspapers? No. That tells you all you need to know.”

Let us hope that people close to Mr Sulzberger make sure that the urgency of this paragraph is made clear to him, and that he finds the courage to delegate leadership to the best wild-eyed genius, not just to the one who hits it off best with him.

The Week at Portico: ¶ Kate Lindsey sang at the Museum last Friday, accompanied by Ken Noda. Kathleen was too tired to go — although not too tired to join me afterward at Caffè Grazie for dinner. She missed a good one! ¶ I wrestled with John Wray’s Lowboy for days before realizing that I’d been misled by the sheaf of careless reviews that this somewhat mixed book has generated, but James Wood came to the rescue, and helped me to clear away the common reading. It happens from time to time that I read a “hot” book and like it well enough, but come away thinking that it can’t be very good, because it doesn’t measure up to the run of reviews. Instead of feeling out-of-it and curmudgeonly, I must remember that most reviews are dashed off by harried Grub Streeters, and quite likely to mischaracterize unusual, but compelling, books such as Mr Wray’s. ¶ Somehow, I don’t fall into the trap where movies are concerned; I believe that I don’t expect very much from movie critics, with whom, in any case, I expect to disagree. I may be wildly wrong about Un baiser, s’il vous plaît, but I certainly enjoyed thinking (and writing) about it. ¶ Joseph O’Neill kicks off this week’s Book Review with an appreciation of Samuel Beckett’s youthful letters. It’s hard, though, to think of Beckett as ever having been youthful.