Category Archives: around town

hands up if you’re interested in writhing

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Something I’ve only just now found out about, and that may be of interest to NYC-area readers: There’s a Oulipian writing group that “meets weekly to practice and discuss the techniques of constrained writing.” It’s called The Writhing Society and it’s led by Wendy Walker and Tom La Farge. Meetings are Wednesdays at 7 at Proteus Gowanus. Not this coming Wednesday, because of the hurricane, but they’ll be doing something at the Brooklyn Museum on Saturday November 10th (yes, tomorrow), and according to an email that went round they may try to find an alternate place to hold their regular meeting this coming week. Their space got some Sandy seepage under its door, and right now they’re planning to reopen November 15th. I suggest contacting Proteus Gowanus via the info on that Writhing Society page if you want more information about their irregular activities in the meantime.

I’ve been working on my own little Oulipo-inspired project for a couple weeks now, actually, when I can find time. It involves Apple’s voice-to-text technology, which to my perpetual delight doesn’t always work all that well. Hopefully it will be finished soon. I’ll post it here when it’s fully cooked. I’m very curious about The Writhing Society, though, and do intend to check it out soon. Getting a Manhattanite out to Gowanus for a meeting can be like pulling tleeth, but in actuality the journey is not a lengthy one.

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Unrelated, but also possibly of interest: the Center for Tactical Magic is holding a bank robbery contest in partnership with Southern Exposure. Not to see who can rob an actual bank the fastest or who can grab more monies, but to see who can come up with the most visionary and well-thought-out proposal. The idea, basically, is that our collective “heightened antagonism towards the big banking establishment deserves a creative outlet,” and that now is the time “to re-visit the romantic representation of bank robbers in relation to the current economic and social crises, including: income disparity, unemployment, housing foreclosures, federal bailouts, the LIBOR scandal, and a wealth of other egregious economic indicators.” The prize is $1,000 in real-life U.S. clams.

bank robbery contest

Click on the poster to see the submission guidelines and FAQs.

I learned about it via Arthur magazine, though their link seems to have gone dead. I’m still in the early stages of working on my own proposal but it’s OK; the deadline isn’t until January 31, 2013.

Years ago my ex-boyfriend and I invented a character called Jerry B’Jerry. We’re still best friends and we still discuss Mr. B’Jerry from time to time, and I think this heist is probably a job for him. He’s definitely got antagonism towards the banking establishment, and he’s a really sketchy guy. He’s never had a life on paper — he has only an oral history — but the promise of cash might be just what’s needed to draw him further out into the world. If you’ve got a character or two casing your own mental joint, I encourage you to enter them in the contest. I have a feeling some of you people have the potential to clean up.

Close-up of Jaquet Droz’s “The Writer” automaton above from A Blog to Watch.

October mixture

I hope that you and your loved ones emerged from Sandy unscathed, and that you’re not reading this while plugged in to the first working street lamp or dangling set of twinkly lights you encountered in midtown. (I’ve heard those are popular sources of power for my fellow New Yorkers as of late). I’ve been high and dry in Lunar Camel Co. Towers the whole time, baking bread and watching nature documentaries and whatnot. Friends from Evacuation Zone A have been coming and going and will continue to be welcomed, even my friend Jim, who graciously informed me in advance that he “only sleep[s] in the nude.” Anyone who can’t squeeze in on the sofa with Jim and has to stay downtown will soon be on the receiving end of as many warm chocolate chip cookies as can fit in the storage compartments of a Vespa.

I hope you’re having a happy Halloween too, or will have a happy one whenever you get around to celebrating it. My neighborhood, as you can see below, has been getting ready for some time now, but the storm complicated things. If you’re in need of an extremely last-minute costume for a postponed or fashionably late-night party, I posted a few ideas last year, and if you’re in need of some candy-eating music, I posted some good stuff on my food blog a few years back, along with a vegetarian, pumpkin-centric dinner recipe.

Harlem's bikers are ready for Halloween.

Madison Ave. near 120th St., Oct. 5th.

I’ve been a delinquent blogger lately and I’ve scarcely had time to feel bad about how shabby my rattletrap urls were looking — I’ve been alternating between working sixty-hour weeks and getting out of town. I’ve also been preoccupied with a few little projects, one of which I’ll tell you about very soon.

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Applemania is coming soon on my food blog, though it’s not the little project I meant.

sweater scan

I’ve also taken up knitting html sweaters for my blogs,
but that’s not the little project I meant either.

I’ve been reading a lot too, though far more fitfully than is usual for me. I’m generally a one- or two-books-at-a-time woman but there are five or six I’m dipping into at the moment. Among them:

Love is a Pie cover

Love is a Pie by Maude Hutchins has been on my shelf for many years and I’m just getting around to it now. I’m not deeply engaged with it at the moment such that I have a lot to say about it yet, but I wanted to show you the cover, which I love. It’s the New Directions 1952 edition designed by Andy Warhol. (There’s a tiny bit more about his work for them here). I think I paid about $7 for it, partly because hardly anyone knows who Hutchins is, and partly because Warhol isn’t credited for the illustration anywhere in it. The NYRB blog describes Hutchins as the author of “peculiar psycho-sexual novels,” among other things, but Love is a Pie is a collection of short stories and plays, eminently suitable for reading a few pages at a time. My experience with it so far is that it is also peculiar and psycho-sexual. Five of the stories (“The Missing Papers of an Extra Man”) are narrated from the point of view of a bachelor, who wonders, at one point, whether “there [are] gastric juices in the brain?” There’s an interesting essay about Hutchins over at the LRB here, by Terry Castle, whose essay collection Boss Ladies, Watch Out! is also on my bed-side table. I was moved to buy it after reading her review of Lisa Cohen’s All We Know: Three Lives — a biography of three obscure and under-rated lesbians — and I’m really digging it.

I’ve also been haphazardly delving into vintage sci-fi. Doubtlessly this is influenced by an ex-boyfriend who often reads at random. Or what appears to be at random, but in actuality reflects a practiced and discerning eye for strangeness. He used to teach critical reading, actually, but (or “and”?) many of his books are ones he found on the street or in the cardboard box at his gym. After close observation I decided this is a worthwhile manner of reading, but I’m not sure I’ve gotten the hang of it yet. I’m still a bit too purposeful. I picked up the two below because both feature R. A. Lafferty and he was recommended to me years ago. I’ve never been a sci-fi person in the slightest but I sort of like the idea of becoming one. I could definitely get into the illustrations, at least, whether they’re good, terrible, or merely really weird. Plus it seems like a good time, with Singularity & Co., for example, pointing the way towards some of the more interesting bits of the genre, and the rest of the internet readily coughing up oddities.

Alpha 3 cover   Alpha 3 table of contents

Alpha Three (ed. Robert Silverberg, Ballantine Books 1972).
Click on either image to enlarge.
I don’t always buy books with no idea whether I’ll like them or not, but when they’re cheap and have interesting covers, sometimes I do.

if sci fi cover 1961   if table of contents

if Science Fiction (ed. H. L. Gold, Digest Productions, Jan. 1961),
with its table of contents apparently signed by Phyllis Gotlieb. And apparently she ranked all the other stories in order of . . . quality? Or suggested reading order?

Semi-relatedly, a selection of some of the titles I’ve seen on that ex-boyfriend’s shelves / floor / desk:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia. I idly flipped through this one morning but there wasn’t much that held my attention. A few weeks later I happened to read a fascinating article in the Independent about a supposedly-elusive mafia tradition whereby two men in the same crime family will promise not to snitch on each other by sharing a passionate kiss. I asked D. whether this was covered in the Guide and he said yes of course, there is an entire chapter on it. So there you have it: Some of those idiotic-looking idiot guides are well-researched and worthwhile reads.

mafia kiss

a mafia-style kiss from the Independent, June 10, 2011

How to Draw Dynamic Hands. Actually I borrowed this one and now it’s sitting on my floor. I keep meaning to scan a few pages from it for a draft blog post that doesn’t really have anything to do with hands but needs some imagery. I’m hoping to learn something from it too because my drawing skills are not what anyone would call “dynamic.”

The Stain Bible. I remember we were both disappointed that this does not explain how to remove stains from that green kombucha that looks like pond scum. It’s one of the best flavors but also one of the most explosive, and its stains are not the same as grass stains.

Hide Your Assets and Disappear: A Step-by-Step Guide to Vanishing Without a Trace. I realize that for some people, seeing this in a man’s bookcase might be a red flag. But aren’t you curious to read it too now that you know it exists? I should maybe point out that it was surrounded by some really good stuff, like Flaubert’s Sentimental Education and The Lyrics of Leonard Cohen.

• Menander’s Dyskolos. Wikipedia tells me that this title is translated from Ancient Greek “as The Grouch, The Misanthrope, The Curmudgeon, The Bad-tempered Man or Old Cantankerous.” It’s a comedy, though.

Anyhow. Now that the storm has left us it’s a fine time for music from a wonky magic carpet, don’t you think? Here’s Manolo Sanlucar, “Diálogos.”

Michele Redolfi is perhaps more grounded: he’s been performing underwater concerts for years. Specifically, he composes, manipulates, and records experimental music and sounds under water, in pools and natural settings. The immersed participants listen through their bones, as explained by a knowledgable commenter over at Lunar Atrium. I was reminded of him recently when Connie Hockaday posted her underwater wrestling video. Here’s his “Grand Nocturne de Musique Subaquatique” at Grenoble in 2008.

In terms of everyday listening, I’m still pretty into wan and melancholic French synth pop / electro-yéyé. Long-time readers will remember that I was enthusing about Elli et Jacno in my very first post at Lunar Camel Co., and I still love them. (These days I only love them for about twenty minutes every three weeks or so, but still, it’s serious).

Main dans la main

Elli et Jacno “Main dans la main” single

Not related, but seasonally appropriate: the Mo-dettes cover of “Paint it Black”:

While we are on the subject of music, you should try to get to the Metropolitan Opera to see Thomas Adès’s adaptation of “The Tempest.” I’m basically poor people, but I know someone who knows someone and I managed to get in to a dress rehearsal. It was pretty spectacular! I used to go to the opera more often than I do now and it was lovely just to go again, but I came away thinking this was one of the more effective productions I’ve ever seen. I say that as someone who made sure to get herself to that Peter Greenaway one about Vermeer with actual rain and live cows in it. I do love a spectacle, but “The Tempest” was compelling in a character-driven way as well, and the music possessed more subtleties than I could ever hope to intelligently discuss after a single performance. It’s gotten very mixed reviews (WQXR said “eh”, while the Times gave it at least two very positive write-ups), but I say you should go if you can.

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Another recommendation, this one straight out of my superstorm playlists: The birds of Papua New Guinea are sublime. The mating dances they do are too bonkers for words, and there’s one that can make a sort of satellite dish with the feathers on his head and neck to pick up chicks, a satellite of bird love. Here, this short film from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some terrific-looking birds in it.

If you’ve got more time to devote to bird-viewing, seek out “Nature: Birds of the Gods.” It’s about the same birds but it’s with David Attenborough and it’s about an hour long.

coarseness of thought and feeling; want of grace and taste; numerous allusions to matters of merely local interest

Via Dangerous Minds, here is Fran Lebowitz talking about NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, who she has a bracingly compelling, funny, and well-reasoned dislike of:

It’s from a book launch party for While We Were Sleeping: NYU and The Destruction of New York. As soon as I finished watching it I sent the link to my most scornful Bloomberg-scorning friend, who recently had me reaching for a notepad when he said that “living in a city where this little cunt is in charge of things is like living in 18th-century Paris.” Is it? It kind of is. Someone really ought to make a list about that. And why am I not trying my hand at writing libelles? Those topical, subversive, witty little pamphlets or one-sheets that flourished in France between the 16th and 18th centuries, often anonymously written because of nastiness or seditiousness or both, were quite obviously the blogs of their day. But not all blogs are libelles.

Am I qualified? I’m somewhat mordant by nature, not short on opinions, and I enjoy hitting the “publish” button but my very full-time day job gets in the way. Working in shorter, sharper forms holds considerable appeal. In my mid-twenties I was pretty thoroughly knocked out by Balzac’s Lost Illusions, the first thing of his I’d ever read, and, although a work of fiction, my first meaningful glimpse of libelles. I didn’t mind the notoriously detailed and lengthy description of printing press technology that occurs very early in the book, and the further I read the more I thought it was utterly brilliant. The main character is an aspiring poet from the provinces who later finds himself mucking about with Parisian journalists and libellistes, and Balzac’s determination to capture the pragmatic aspects of how technological progress changes things alongside the social aspects was exciting to me; it tickled the same vaguely Marxist parts of my brain that my college professors did when they talked about Dziga Vertov’s socialization of the movie camera. Prior to the libelle era, people simply could not vitiate public figures or distribute their most profane little thoughts in print affordably or with any great efficiency because printing presses hadn’t caught up with their urgent need to comment on the culture around them. I was delighted to read more Balzac and see that this was a theme with him — to see, for example, that in Cousin Bette someone seems to be setting up a trust for someone else every other page or so. My understanding — somewhat spotty, but reasonably well informed from having read about this some years ago — is that the trust was fairly new legal technology at the time, a creation of the Napoleonic code; before then, people could not arrange to distribute their money or property outside of the traditional family lines in any sort of reliable way. To provide for a lover outside of marriage or a gay lover, for example, was suddenly a possibility. (To this day the law of succession and probate in the state of Louisiana is quite different from that of other U.S. states because, being a former French territory, it is the only state whose law is based on the Napoleonic code rather than English common law). Anyhow, where was I? I think I was getting around to suggesting that someone ought to study Bloombergian culture in a Balzacian manner, with special attention to the nefarious money-grubbing Ms. Lebowitz so capably describes.

underground journalist

A libelliste’s mechanisms at work, scanned from The Forbidden Best Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France by Robert Darnton. Specifically, he’s “from the frontspiece to Le Gazetier cuirasse, ou anecdotes scandaleuses de la cour de France by Charles Theveneau de Morande, 1771.” I haven’t read the book yet but I’ve got the same author’s The Literary Underground of the Old Regime in my going-out-of-town bag this weekend.

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That same friend I sent the video to has a recurring fantasy about running into Bloomberg someplace — our mayor does take the subway every once in a while, and gets into and out of shiny black SUVs all over town — and loudly exclaiming, as if unaware of himself “I can’t believe he’s so tiny in person!”

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Did you know that in Marie Antoinette’s time women wore dioramas in their hair? The trend apparently started with the use of wire forms padded out with wool and horse hair, which gave them impressive volume, and before long they were perching entire allegories up there. Appraiser and interior architect Soodie Beasley writes that

[w]omen placed in their hair little figurines made from fabric and small objects made from papier maché. Their hairdresser arranged them as sceneries or landscapes. Sometimes, they used their hair as a stage to replicate historical scenes or sometimes to communicate an emotion — sentimental pouf — this type of do was called.

. . . . Marie Antoinette wore her pouf a’ la inoculation in support of the small pox vaccination which showed Aesculapius’s serpent wrapped around an olive tree.

She wore these hairstyles at court and in town, and this had a swift and contagious effect . . .

‘Everybody was talking of the poufs created by the firm of Bertin . . . one famous pouf was that of the Duchesse de Lauzun. She appeared at a reception wearing a most delicious pouf. It contained a stormy sea, ducks swimming near the shore, someone on the point of shooting one of them; on the top of the head there was a mill, the miller’s wife being made love to by an abbe, whilst near the ear the miller could be seen leading a donkey.’

The last paragraph there quotes Émile Langlade’s Rose Bertin, the creator of fashion at the court of Marie-Antoinette. I think the contemporary equivalent (in Manhattan, at least) is people doing unspeakably overwrought things to cocktails, which have become so burdened by displays of creativity that even bartenders are starting to wonder whether their preening is turning people off, and whether we haven’t turned some sort of corner yet. Delightful, innovative, gaudy, pompous, and inane — people have always been this way and always will be, and at any given moment the counterweights may be in need of rebalancing.

Miss Juniper Fox

Miss Juniper Fox, 1777, from the Lewis Walpole Library
via Soodie Beasley.

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The title of my post comes from a scrap of commentary on the ancient Greek poet Hipponax I found floating around on the internet. It used to appear on his Wikipedia page but I don’t see it there now. These qualities are supposedly reasons why his “witty, abusive” verse was not more popular. (He is nonetheless sometimes credited with having invented parody, and his deft dealings with the sordid side of life in Ephesus seem to have made quite an impression on people). The first time I saw it I was struck by the idea that this particular scrap would make a very good manifesto of sorts for a blog, not unlike the mumbo-jumbo in the header on my food blog. Sometimes it’s incredibly helpful to limit and sharpen one’s focus, however perplexing the operational rules may appear to others.

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new old thing

Going to fly kites. On Saturday my friend & I went to Governors Island to fly these kites he bought on the street in Bed Stuy. (From a guy on Broadway, he says). We’re hoping to make them trendy so that we can open a small and extraordinarily expensive kite boutique in Brooklyn selling hand-painted kites in designs more meaningful to our clientele than the usual phoenixes and dragons, such as bodega cats and leaves of organic kale. I don’t see how this enterprise could fail: our kite-buyers would be able to literally fly their preferences overhead, and their friends would have no trouble locating them while waiting in one insufferable line or another. We haven’t gotten started painting the kites yet but by all means feel free to start spreading the word about them (“a potent medium for exploring notions of identity and selfhood,” etc.).

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These people could be flying a bottle of artisanal apricot and Gloucestershire ‘Old Spot’ hotdog bitters or looking for their friends (underneath a tin of 19th-century moustache pomade) or their friends’ friends (a jar of small-batch rhubarb-peyote kimchi) instead of watching tacky cruise ships pass by, and if doing so would enrich me why shouldn’t they be?

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How cathartic it was to narrowly escape rain — it started coming down just as our ferry departed — and have a restorative Vietnamese dinner in Chinatown, followed by browsing for weird fruits.

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unidentified portion of NJ

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jackfruit

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wax jamboo, coming soon in kite form

up yr junction

My friends are DJing tomorrow (Thursday) at One Last Shag in Brooklyn. Sadly I won’t be there because I’m Doing Other Stuff, but I see no reason why you shouldn’t be there. The flyer says it’s a queer party but they don’t get into scraps with breeders or anything like that. If you request a shit song, however . . . look out!

up-the-junction flyer

Update: More info here.

signs and symbols

signs and symbols

On Saturday I met a friend at the Met. We I got there late so we only had a few minutes to pop in to the Egyptian wing before closing time, but sometimes a few minutes is enough to notice something interesting enough to mentally chew on for a couple days.

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This time it was these two statues, which are of the same guy. He had a little army of them in his tomb, one for each year. Youthful pecs gave way to man-boobs. The older figure on the right also has a longer skirt, more relaxed shoulders, a slightly pouchy tummy, and a shorter stride. Imagine these for yourself!

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Hopefully yours don’t appear progressively grumpier with age. Many of mine would have bobbed hair because I started young. No. 35 would be accompanied by an IV drip to commemorate Health Issues, but all my most important scars are invisible to the naked eye. So several of my Madeleinettes would have to wear little badges saying “Ask me about my love life,” etc., if they were to convey anything of their inner state to viewers passing by. Probably this is true for most of us who have not yet reached the longer-skirt years.

Here is yr green drink.

You know, for St. Patrick’s Day. I got my green drinking out of the way early so I can spend the day itself indoors with other green things of my choice, away from festive novelty hats and the fluids so vivaciously discharged by people wearing them.

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Anyhow, this drink was one of the nicest I’ve had in a long while. It’s called a Wadsworth and it’s made with gin (Beefeater), Luxardo Triplum, lemon, green chili, and coriander. It’s greener in taste than appearance and very well-balanced, and you ought to go have one. It’s at a restaurant called Gwynnett St. in Brooklyn and I had such a nice dinner there yesterday. The place isn’t new but I hadn’t heard of it before; I was just walking around after a Thing nearby and there it was. I think it’s an excellent choice if you should find yourself hungry and in or near Brooklyn.

I had whiskey bread and chicken. The bread was terrific. I’m not sure I would’ve been able to decide it had whiskey in it had I not known in advance, but it would be interesting to try it again with a whiskey-based drink for accompaniment. I’m not normally an orderer of chicken but I was drawn to this one because ash was listed as one of the ingredients. Our waiter explained that the meat is brined and then coated with a mixture of smoked hay ash, garlic, and (I think) grapeseed oil. I would order pretty much anything with hay in it. It’s lo-fi, and I am famously into that. Hay, leaves, sap, or grasses, yes please. This was very, very good. Smoky, yes, though less so than my friend’s equally-delicious striped bass with smoked oyster cream. The deep garlic savoriness reminded me of Hide-Chan’s black garlic ramen, but it wasn’t pungent such that I felt like I needed to go into hiding afterwards. (Doubtlessly the beet and brown butter vinaigrette helped there). The hay gave it bonfire qualities without the barnyard-y note dishes like this sometimes have. This was more urbane-pagan than chef-daydreaming-of-farming.

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As long as we’re on the subject, I feel compelled to admit — is this why I brought this subject up? — I’ve been thinking about reviving my food blog. There are a number of reasons why it’s sort of a perverse time for me to do so, and yet I think it may be inevitable. I have so many other things I ought to be doing right now (very much including this blog) but I tend to get more things done when I have more things to do. If I add one more to my list, I might be able to finally make some real progress with those other things, along with the new (old) thing. I’ve got a new iPad that was just delivered today, which should be a tremendous help in terms of blog-infrastructure. Things I can do from bed or beside a turtle pond are far more likely to get done than things that require me sat at a desk. I also have a healthy backlog of material to get re-started with, having continued mentally food blogging during the entire dormant period (and having snapped plenty of photos and made plenty of notes too, just in case the secret mental blogging became unsatisfactory). I hadn’t looked at the list of e-mail subscribers to that blog in many, many months until yesterday, and there are now more people on it than there were when I was writing the thing. The newest was from this Tuesday! Knowing that people are waiting around for words I’m not producing makes me feel devious.

UPDATE: If you’d like to see a well-lit, technically perfect photo of that deliciously lo-fi smoked hay chicken, there’s one in the New York Times review of Gwynnett St. that just came out today (April 4, 2012). Wells liked the food a lot but thinks that “[m]ore attention to lighting in the dining room would flatter both the food and the faces.” As ugly as my BlackBerry photos above are, I disagree. I’d much rather have a sexily dim dinner than an easily-bloggable bright one.

turtle yoga

Sunny and 70° F in NYC today, just the sort of weather that inspires the turtles of Morningside Park to take up a fitness regimen.

turtle yoga

Actually the photo is from last spring, but I don’t expect to catch them at it this year, not after that big NYT piece about the dangers of recreational contortion. It really made the rounds, that thing, and turtles are notoriously cautious. The ones devoted to retaining their youthful snap will probably have turned their little attentions to the latest algae diet.

meats are murder

baby bologna

Baby bologna, boy or girl flavor, observed in a Brighton Beach grocery. The photo doesn’t really give you a sense of proportion but the tubes are pretty big, I’d say probably 3 or 4 babies in each one.

Sorry it’s been so quiet around here but I’ve been recovering from surgery on the side where my blogging arm is. Found the baby meats while sorting through old Blackberry photos. On Boxing Day we walked around Coney Island and Brighton Beach, concluding with mushroom soup, vodka shots, dumplings and khachapuri in a moderately gaudy Russian restaurant.

Coney Island, Boxing Day

One photo I wish I’d taken but it would have been intolerably intrusive for me to do so: the guy Putin-ishly sunbathing shirtless at the end of a long row of mismatched chaise lounges stuffed with elderly people bundled in layers of coats and blankets. I tried to find out what is the Russian word for this phenomenon, but to my complete surprise there does not seem to be a way to say “virile” or “manly” in Russian so how does one poke fun in that direction? Babelfish offered me “mужественно” but when I translated it back into English it said that means “with fortitude,” which isn’t the same at all. Google Translate suggested “mужественный,” but that apparently means “courageous.” Which is also not what I mean; sunbathing when it’s 30°F isn’t courageous. How can a culture that gives us vodka, krokodil, and a frequently bare-chested he-man P.M. who wields perpetual power not have a word for what the guy was doing in his lounge chair? If I’d taken the photo you’d know exactly what I mean.

tomb of the honey children

125th St.

tomb of the honey children