Sunday, April 27, 2008

From Brooklyn to the Schuylkill River: Notes on Philadelphia (& New York City)

I read that John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Edward Rutledge agreed to meet with British General Howe at the beginning of the War of Independence. It took them 2 days to reach Staten Island on horseback from Philadelphia. It took us a couple of short hours on the NJ Turnpike to reach this city near the Schuykill River ("school-kill", Dutch for "hidden river.")

We visited for a couple of days with our younger daughters. We made a point of going to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which sits grandly visible at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. We wanted to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit. Although Frida Kahlo, born of Mexican and German/Jewish parents, has long since entered the popular culture, in that regard dwarfing her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, this huge retrospective of her work is very energetic and comprehsensive, quite an experience to view. The show includes works from throughout her life, along with family photographs, lots of informative text, and a cool audio accompaniment.
Organized in celebration of the centenary of the artist's birth, this exhibition of over 40 paintings focuses on Frida Kahlo's extraordinary self-portraits. Also on view are portraits and still-life paintings, in which Kahlo projects her passions, both personal and political, onto other people's likenesses or everyday objects.

Particularly interesting: Claire Booth Luce, editor of Vanity Fair, had commissioned Kahlo to paint a tribute of a socialite friend who had leaped to her death from a hotel. Kahlo's "portrait" of the dead woman, intended as a gift from Luce to her grieving mother, was a painting that portrayed the woman in the act of suicide. Luce refused to accept the painting, wanted to destroy it, but ended up not paying for it and returning it to Kahlo. Kahlo's politics, like her art, appeared to address social and gender/sexual relations and issues, both in her personal life and in society at large. There is a lot here to take in, aesthetically, politically and philsophically. And through her emotional depth and the body awareness that is imbedded in her work, it is grandly aesthetic but with notes of violence, pain and loneliness everywhere. The show is on view through May 18th.

The hotel we stayed at in Philadelphia overlooked Logan Circle, which, according to local history and a plaque in the lobby, was the site of public hangings until 1823. This thought loomed large when we saw the CNN report about the conclusion of the trial of the 3 NYPD police detectives charged in the shooting of Sean Bell. While NY media is so dominant to us, we also learned that a demonstration was held in Philadelphia over the weekend to protest a number of deadly force killings of civilians by the Philadelphia police that have occurred over the last couple of years in Philadelphia. Although not all of the Philadelphia shootings by police mirrored the Sean Bell case (in some instances, the victims in Philadelphia were armed, although apparently the illegal weapon had not been drawn at the time they were shot), the info indicated that despite the numerous occurrences of unjustified deadly force, no District Attorney/ grand jury investigation has ever occurred to look into these matters. In New York City, it appears that Federal lawsuits and civil trials will likely follow, so that, despite the NY Judge's determination that the detectives were not criminally culpable, it is clear that in NYC the repercussions from the NYPD shooting of the unarmed Sean Bell are far from over. Errol Lewis had a great, thoughtful op ed piece in today's NY Daily News, with concrete proposals on how NYC can begin to address this tragic situation, to try to prevent it from occurring yet again. Cops are clearly often in life and death situations, but it is our obligation as a city to prevent the shooting of innocent (primarily minority) civilians. The Errol Louis article is "a must read". It is sobering to note however that in some cities, such as Philadelphia, which was the focus of a lot of attention in the recent Democratic primary, in those instances when apparently unjustified use of deadly force by police have occurred, the investigations have yet to even begin, in some case years after the shootings.

New York City can and must do better. This is an issue that must be addressed head on, with all deliberate speed.

Errol Louis here:

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/columnists/louis/

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Current Reading

  • Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War- Tony Horwitz
  • A Sultan in Palermo - Tariq Ali
  • Hitch-22: A Memoir - Christopher Hitchens
  • Negropedia- Patrice Evans
  • Dead Funny: Humor in Nazi Germany - Rudolph Herzog
  • Exile on Main Street - Robert Greenfield
  • Among the Truthers - A Journey Among America's Growing Conspiracist Underworld - Jonathan Kay
  • Paradise Lost - John Milton
  • What Is Your Dangerous Idea? Thinking the Unthinkable - John Brockman
  • Notes from the Edge Times - Daniel Pinchbeck
  • Fringe-ology: How I Can't Explain Away the Unexplainable- Steve Volk
  • Un Juif pour l'exemple (translated as A Jew Must Die )- Jacques Cheesex
  • The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
  • Pale King - David Foster Wallce
  • David Bowie: Starman bio - Paul Trynka
  • Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat - Andrez Bergen
  • The Future of Nostalgia -Svetlana Boym
  • Living in the End Times - Slavoj ZIzek
  • FIrst as Tragedy Next as Farce - Slavoj Zizek
  • How to Survive a Robot Uprising - Daniel Wilson
  • Where is My Jet Pack? -Daniel Wilson
  • Day of the Oprichniks - Vladimir Sorokin
  • Ice Trilogy - Vladimir Sorokin
  • First Civilizations
  • Oscar Wilde -Andre Maurois
  • The Beats - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • SDS - Harvey Pekar, et al
  • The Unfinished Animal - Theodore Roszak
  • Friends of Eddy Coyle
  • Brooklands -Emily Barton
  • Abraham Lincoln - Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahme-Smith - Entertaining and historical
  • Dictionary of the Khazars - Pavic
  • Sloth-Gilbert Hernandez
  • War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy
  • Charles Addams: An Evilution
  • Life in Ancient Greece
  • Time - Eva Hoffmann
  • Violence - S. Zizek
  • Luba - a graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez
  • Life in Ancient Egypt
  • Great Apes - Will Self - riveting and disturbing
  • Lost Honor of Katherina Blum - Heinrich Boll - could not put it down
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed (author deserving of new wide readership)
  • Living in Ancient Mesopotomia
  • Landscape in Concrete - Jakov Lind - surreal
  • 'There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby'-Ludmilla Petrushevskaya - creepy stories - translation feels literarily "thin"
  • Mythologies - William Butler Yeats (re-read again & again)
  • How German Is It ? - Walter Abish
  • The Book of Genesis - illustrated by R. Crumb - visionary
  • "Flags" - an illustrated encyclopedia - wish I could remember all of these. Flag culture
  • Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Ubik - Philip K. Dick
  • Nobody's Fool - Richard Russo
  • Hitler's Empire - Mark Mazower
  • Nazi Culture - various authors
  • Master Plan: Himmler 's Scholars and the Holocaust - Heather Pringle
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem - Hannah Arendt
  • Living in Ancient Rome
  • Traveling with Herodotus -R. Kapuszynsky
  • Oblivion - David Foster Wallace - Some of his greatest work
  • Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace - still wrestling with this great book
  • Netherland - Joseph O'Neill - staggeringly great read
  • Renegade - The Obama Campaign - Richard Wolffe
  • Mount Analogue - Rene Daumal
  • John Brown
  • Anathem - Neal Stephenson - love Stephenson but tough slogging first few chapters
  • 7 Deadly Sins
  • ALEX COX - Alex Cox
  • FIASCO by Thomas Ricks
  • I, Fellini - Charlotte Chandler & Federico Fellini
  • Best of 20th century alternative history fiction
  • Judah P. Benjamin - Eli Evans - Confederacy's Secretary of State & source of the W.C. Field's exclamation
  • Moscow 2042 - Vladimir Voinovich - Pre-1989 curiosity & entertaining sci fi read; love his portrayal of Solzhenitsyn-like character
  • Gomorrah - Roberto Saviano - Mafia without the It-Am sugar coating. Brutal & disturbing
  • The Sack of Rome - Celebrity+Media+Money=Silvio Berlusconi - Alexander Stille
  • Reporting - David Remnick - terrific journalism
  • Fassbinder
  • Indignation - Philip Roth
  • Rome
  • Let's Go Italy! 2008
  • Italian Phrases for Dummies
  • How to Pack
  • Violence - Slavoj Zizek
  • Dali: Painting & Film
  • The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight - Jimmy Breslin
  • The Good Rat - Jimmy Breslin
  • Spook Country - William Gibson
  • A Blue Hand - The Beats in India - Deborah Baker
  • The Metaphysical Club - Louis Menard
  • Coast of Utopia - Tom Stoppard
  • Physics of the Impossible - Dr. Michio Kaku
  • Managing the Unexpected - Weick & Sutcliffe
  • Wait Til The Midnight Hour - Writings on Black Power
  • Yellow Back Radio Brokedown - Ishmael Reed
  • Burning Down the Masters' House - Jayson Blair
  • Howl - Allen Ginsberg
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Palace Thief - Ethan Canin
  • John Adams - David McCullough
  • The Wooden Sea - Jonathan Carroll
  • American Gangster - Mark Jacobson
  • Return of the King - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Gawker Guide to Becoming King of All Media
  • Jews and Power - Ruth Wisse
  • Youth Without Youth - Mircea Eliade
  • A Team of Rivals - Doris Goodwin
  • Ghost Hunters -William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death - Deborah Blum
  • Dream -Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy - Stephen Duncombe
  • Love & Theft - Eric Lott
  • Exit Ghost - Philip Roth
  • Studio A - The Bob Dylan Reader

Current Listening

  • Alexi Murdoch Wait
  • Wilco Summer Teeth
  • Wilco The Album
  • Carmina Burana - Ray Manzarek (& Michael Riesmann)
  • Polyrock - Polyrock
  • 96 Tears - Garland Jeffries
  • Ghost of a Chance Garland Jeffries
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra
  • Mustang Sally Buddy Guy
  • John Lee Hooker
  • Black and White Years
  • Together Through Life - B. Dylan
  • 100 Days 100 Nites - Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
  • DYLAN: 3 disc Greatest...
  • Glassworks - Philip Glass
  • Wild Palms - Soundtrack -Ryuichi Sakamoto
  • Dinah Washington - Best of..
  • Commander Cody& His Lost Planet Airmen Live at Armadillo