Art Deco

We hardly know our own monuments. They are scattered throughout a city like a series of bubbles that are entered and then exited. These bubbles are frozen emblems of time and space that are meant to enter and reflect upon. Except maybe if you’re in Paris, or Florence, the entirety of which are monuments. Our own monuments mean something different to us than individuals visiting from far away, but they’re just as strange, just as distant. 


I found myself walking through one such bubble on a late afternoon, veering innocently into Rockefeller Center, just to see. I stay away from most tourist hubs for the crowds, but it had rained so the crowds were slightly cleared and I leaned against the marble, overlooking a golden Prometheus and a dripping, overpriced restaurant. I considered Zeus and his "sound" and "light" icons, one male and one female respectively who herald his glory on either side of the front doors to 30 Rockefeller Center. Below his clean, thin lightning bolts reads: “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.” How classic. Art historian have theorized that from a mannerist period there would always be a classic successor: a neo-classic to a rococo. I have always believed that art is a reaction to cultural needs, and these needs ebb and flow naturally with time. 

Art Deco is the design period of Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, the Chrystler building, the Bryant Park Hotel, The Western Union building, Eldorado on the Hudson River, and many other buildings are factors in the general makeup of the city. The outer core a tourist's experience of this city is primarily through an Art Deco lens. 

The movement that emerged from the whimsical Art Noveau style that, in a similar way, Art Deco to New York, lines Paris like the hem of a dress. But the two differ completely in architectural message. Woven within bold and angular Greek mythical symbolism. Art Deco is both highly masculine and radiant. Through dramatic curves and layered grandeur, the style fulfilled a post-World War I need for social development, for progress and industry. Art Deco's short and impactful era emerged around the same time a powerful urban planner, Robert Moses began to reshape the city, to ultimately make it the very essence of the Art Deco ideal: the city of the Gods, the city of social (white social) progress, industry, and capital. 

The identity of New York City was completely shifted during this period, most bridges that are crossed, most expressways driven, and important buildings preside over the city and mark its ideals. And how exhausting it is to keep up this vision. We are living on the heals of the men who planted their seeds in the 1940's. These are solid structures, but just like the lines of potholes curled ominously like rattlesnakes along the FDR, I see a change coming. 

Wandering out, I find the fated Atlas, the figure before 630 5th avenue. At first I see anger in his mangled brow as he peers down at the passers by, and then I see amazement in his eyes, a wonder at his own strength - to carry the world. 

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Butter: A Home

I look out the window toward the blaring sun and can feel my skin melt through the glass like a healing salve, full of fat: warm and yellow. The comfort of the soft light gives a distinct sense of home from the inside. Coming from divorced parents, home was always a changing place. On both sides, there would cyclicly be vast purges of clothing and furniture. My father had a nomadic existence to begin with that led me from one house to another. I learned to make myself comfortable where I was. But this transience made it hard for me to dig my heels into any place and feel rooted there. All the while I obsessed over other people’s homes and families that felt so ingrained in their ways: a home with a garden, a home with worn floors, a home with a large couch, a plate full of bagels and butter to feed many mouths. These were all things I looked for and relished, oozing quietly into it on contact.

I don’t remember my first encounters with butter exactly. Just the frustration of hard butter that I had at home, and the pristine beauty and ease in spreading a soft butter (usually from a hotel or fancy restaurant). The anger produced by hard butter was wild, not being able to cut into a butter when I was hungry, or the hard butter tearing the perfect slice of bread seemed to stand in direct opposition to the pure joy of a warm butter slathered and dripping from foods. But butter was often the first go-to in the refrigerator: on bread, in cookies, on radishes. 

As an adult, my efforts to make home have been an uphill battle emotionally, physically, and infestionally, i.e. being shooed out of places by various creatures who saw the place better suited without me. But these hurdles, I now know, are an essential part of the quest for home and painful though they are, make the home even more precious still - and not in a victorious kind of way, but a sheer plea kind of way, a compromise you make, as the gravelly voiced and tragic Leonard Cohen said, a Hallelujah, as if from the bottom of a well. This is finally home - not forever, but for now, and I have worked so hard to have this. Hallelujah.

Sitting In the bathroom of one of my homes whose ceiling had crashed into the kitchen, I wondered if home was a place at all. The first step to make home was adopt a mangy black cat several years back. Since then, she has been the anchor to my deeply rooted movement. This companionship is the first stage to a feeling of home, and the close second would be food, the two going hand in hand at one time in human existence: Animals and food. Cows, goat, yaks, and sheep were our sedentary ancestor’s first tame animals, and therein the production of dairy and butter was created.

The very essence of butter lies in this desire for settlement. Rather than relying on hunting or gathering, a herd of cows are owned, and their milk used for various hearth related activities including fuel for fire, as well as butter, milk, and cheese. This dairy that made home for our ancestors were linked inextricably from the way we understand home, the way we understand landscape. A home must have space for all that you own, the most essential of which are you, your source of food, and your hearth.

Often you don’t even realize when you are eating butter as it is the underlying nourishment in many foods, an actor that is both for taste, texture, and chemical. It remains one of those ingredients that you can put on almost any food at all and it will enhance the flavor.

One of the most ancient man made foods remains a strong staple all over the world. Butter was used as an oil for hair and skin by the ancient Romans, and precious as it was, used in religious ceremonies. In India, the cow being a sacred animal, ghee is also a significant item used in ceremonies. Butter is the main ingredient in French cooking (literally. It’s in everything).

The light brown Jersey cows are believed to produce the best quality butter for their milk with a The milk comes out of the cow for months after the calf is born. When collected, the milk is beat until it becomes lumpy. The lumpy substance is filtered, the liquid comes through as buttermilk, and the hard, as butter. According to the critically acclaimed author, Elaine Khosrova who wrote the book Butter: A Rich History, the yellow of the butter comes from beta-catrotene, an antioxidant and yellow pigment found in grass. This antioxidant makes the yellow color of butter that comes out in the pummeling process. The varying of the colors depends on the breed of cow that produces it (goats and buffalo do not yield beta-carotene so their butter is white).

And so we eat butter without remembering its history, without taking the time to appreciate all that it brings to our lives, the nourishment and stability, the universality of its existence. Consider the feeling that butter gives inside you. Consider the migration and value the times of settlement because they will never be permanent.

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A Monster Lives in Crater Lake

We arrived at Crater Lake in the middle of a smoke billow and paid a $25 fee in order to protect the national park from the evils that surround it. The ranger informed us that we may not, in fact, be able to see the lake through the smoke. The drive from Ashland to Crater Lake was a game of peek-a-boo with a few colliding clouds of smoke produced by a large fire by Tiller, Oregon and at least one coming up from the South. Indeed, the lake was barely visible. And we had driven a full two hours to reach it. There was nothing below us but a singeing smoke. There is something menacing imperceptible in the distance.

The West coast is arid and primeval; fragile and crisp as old skin. Teetering between combustion and ancient, serene silence. Preserved cars are parked in lots of pine wood houses with tie-dyed chameleon insignias on doors. Branches long dead from thunder or disease are not rotted, but bare white skeletal structures jutting out from the ground. The grass is dry; the flowers are dry; the dirt is dry; the air is dry and moving. The only thing that keeps the heat are the changing clouds of opaque smoke during fire season, then the temperature rises and remains close to 100 degrees.

Crater Lake is an inverted Mount Manzana that stood 12,000 feet tall. It erupted 7,700 years ago. When it erupted it caved into itself and became a bowl of only for rain and melted snow. Beside the observation deck overlooking the conspicuous Wizard Island is an exhibition room with facts and literary quotes on the wall. Writers have revered Crater Lake. A man shows a woman from across the room a quote that reads: "Born of chaos, fire and smoke, Turbulent nature did'st invoke Mazama's fall-- that thou should'st be, Silent, mysterious, sapphire sea," Words that were written by the poet Poet Belle Menefee Meyer in 1932 whose life is a mystery besides that fact that she may have been from Portland and may or many not have written for a newspaper in San Francisco. 

Ground squirrels developed a taste for fabric so two bore down on my shirt as I swam in the perfect blue. They scrambled up to people with little hands outstretched. If you didn't know better, you might think they loved you. Cougars are crepescular and stalk in between the day. Never very far out of people's minds. There was a story in the paper of a couple of people biking, and they were stalked and eaten by a cougar. The large cats pee in the street, they stand on the edges of our vision. 

The lake itself, plunges 1,949 feet. The legend of the lake told by the Native Americans of the region, saw Mount Mazama belonging to the spirit of the underworld and Shasta of the sky world. The spirit of the underworld fell in love with a chief’s daughter and when she would not come with him to his home in the underworld he rained fire over the land. When two men gave their lives to the fire, the angry god was touched and created a lake. But a powerful significance remains associated with this spot for once local Native American tribes.

We fascinate over great depths of water, where sea monsters live, or great, strange fish swim. Indeed, the volcano is not extinct, only temporarily dormant.

Crater Lake is an emblem of this oldness, of this chaos. Rarely do we get to experience a majesty of this magnitude. The way the torn rocks stand tall, the way their faces blush with Douglas Firs, and the land exposes itself, revealing broken insides, the place of rupture we know so well in metaphor, at some time in our lives, or some place in our bodies. The sun glides through the smoke at the summit of the highest rock like giant shafts of stage lighting. Thousands of years ago a mountain was violently destroyed by rains of fire. Now it remains still and sapphiric, with a kind of ringing in the air, the volcano, a sleeping monster beneath.

A History of Lemons

 

I discovered the lemon when I wanted to lighten my hair in the summer of ‘16, and then the entire season was sticky with pulp. How I lay on the beach and let the lemon juice dry sinewy in my hair, how I drank lemonade, and how I felt cleansed. How it cured my emaciated 18-year-old body in the winter. When all I knew as home was the pregnant loneliness when the children I babysat went to sleep - a life I may one day have, but was distant and I was drinking lemon juice, just trying to survive lying on their shag carpet.

Of all the intoxicating flavors and revelled summer foods, the most powerful is the lemon, folding into the very essence of summer living, an ode, not to the calm, but the vital energy of summer. The time for bugs and bees, where fungus grows, a time of life which is not only sweet, but active. And so we are disinfected by a lemon.

A bright yellow citrus bleaches the hair to the color of straw, quenches thirst like a pin, makes the entrepreneurial youth rich through the abundant lemonade stands. It both flavors and preserves anything like a glossy coat of enamel.

The powerful aroma from a lemon comes from the tiny glands of oil along the lemon zest. The condensed flavor goes a long way in flavor and aroma. Indeed, every part of the lemon has been used for both flavor, medicine, and lightening: hair, skin, and textiles for millenia

Lemons also can aid in healthy skin. It is high in vitamin C; anti-cancerous; enhances eyesight; prevents colds and flus. The fruits are high in pectin, which, aside from being a jelly-maker, aids in intestinal disorders. The list goes on. I can sound like an advertisement, but you know as well as I that ads are for scammers and the delusional. The lemon is doubtless.

The fruit is a hybrid between bitter orange and citron. It is unclear the origin of the lemon, but it may have originally been cultivated in Northwest India. From India it was disbursed by Arab traders to the Middle East when that entire region was known as Mesopotamia. The lemon was introduced into Spain and North Africa sometime between the years 1000 and 1200 CE. It was found in Palestine by the Crusaders who distributed the fruit through Europe.

Staples of a mediterranean flavor profile, the lemon grows best in cool coastal regions like Italy, California, and Southern Spain. Lemons can not be picked wet, or machine harvested, so they are selected by hand. Lemons are picked green, and, usually in transit, the lemons become the uniform bright yellow color they are known for. Lemons are now cultivated six to twelve times a year, mostly in Argentina, South Mexico, and California.

The color of a lemon is a bright, Pantone shade of yellow, with a touch of light green. While yellow is a joyful and vibrant color, it is slightly subdued, spacious. Yellow is a color for living rooms and common areas, communal spaces where the color can promote a welcoming, light air, that simultaneously provides intellectual illumination and solace.

Lemonade braids all over the city like cascading crowns. There’s something painful about the taste, something real and raw in that pain. The trend of lemons can’t be left here with the fruit when Beyonce’s Lemonade wove a glorious yet painful story of a woman - of women, and provided an example for how to tell your story, turn your hurt into… There are times when tastes can hold us down, when the world doesn’t seem to make sense and all of your identity, your belongings, all of your beliefs are stripped from you. This doesn’t happen often, but it happens like lightning and the only things that holds you are things like the taste of lemons.

They’re like Leonardo DiCaprio’s totem in Inception, the harsh, yet predictable taste of lemons, that remind you you’re not dreaming. 

 

Recipes with lemon:

August Salad

Arugula, avocado, sliced tomatoes (or baby tomatoes if you like), lightly salted sunflower seeds, lemon juice and a light splash of oil

 

Chicken Tagine

Chicken baked with cumin, lemon, curry and a bit of hot pepper

Make sure to keep the chicken juices to use with the couscous

 

Lemonade:

Lemons

Sugar

Lavender extract

Ice

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Is This Sparta?

I have been followed by a mask: on the back of a truck in the Rockaways with a blue line through the center: blue lives matter, on the rear window of another truck, and on the back of a drunk man’s leg at the taco place by the beach. The three came jauntily in quick succession within a four hour afternoon. The image is of a protected nose with cheek guards that gape open from the eyes to the jaw. The helmet is minimal, without much decoration or intimidating design other than a horse hair plume that was sometimes place along the scalp, mohawk-style. Perhaps the simplicity on its own is the most terrifying aspect. After some research, I discovered that the helmet is based off of a Spartan helmet, which struck me as significant.

The helmet is a sign of strength and honor. Obviously: placed on the head, but without a specific design to separate it from the body, the connection of the head to the body signifies its connection with the body, or animal instincts, as opposed to a high intellectual or spiritual power. The primal power lies in the sameness of it with the rest of the armor and in its connection with the body. For high commanding officers, the helmet was adorned with the plume of horse hair. Indeed the horse is a connection to a collective, coming from a brute strength, a brotherhood.

Sparta is for the most part unknown to us, but the story of its supposed influence remains as a fantastic world in which we have often recently indulged, but what we know so far is the myth around the ancient kingdom.

The community was created during a “golden age” for war, when concepts in battle strategy and honor in battle were scared, a time when the brotherhood of soldiers was created alongside the Greek development of philosophy, Lycurgus formed a warrior kingdom called Sparta. Sparta was supposed to master it’s warrior citizens through impeccable strategy and military discipline that was succeeded through eugenics and through military priority over anything else.

According to Plutarch, the initiation of young men began when they were nine years old and taken from their mothers, and brought to an army barrack that was run by teenage boys. They underwent a Lord of the Flies-type of bullying that would either make or break the boys who, upon making it out at the age of around 19, would be cold and calculated warriors.

The tales of containment and insensitivity are hardly believable. But, what will they say about the United States in centuries from now? No, it is not Sparta, but the anthropological image might equally off-putting.

The story that we know about Sparta is almost solely through the Greek writer, Plutarch who was writing during the fall of the Roman Empire and who perhaps was seizing to popular ideas of the time of returning to a strict and dominant Rome that could allow it to, again rule the Mediterranean. Our other perspective on Sparta is through Homer’s The Iliad, which portrays the ruler, Menelaus as a simpleton and Sparta as relatively weak and not a first rate nation compared to Troy. However, it was the home of Helen, the queen whose kidnapping, or escape, would begin the famous battle of Troy.

There is something in this, to carry forward the fantasy of Sparta. The films at and around the theme of ancient Greece, and especially Sparta, portraying a desire to express a kind of ultimate togetherness, a strength that would take a culture shift to achieve, a desire for belonging. The films are, very obvious homoerotic images that celebrate and objectify the male body.

And is it not men who need to reach beneath their armor, and what is it to be a man and to be strong? Sparta’s fantasy of an over-the-top masculinity seems to be a plea for the very things that it seems to dismiss, community and exposure, of both body and emotion, a cultural investment in a person’s strength and character.

I hope that we can feel free from those things which will divide us so we can recognize those that invest in us.

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Skin

Summer does strange things to the skin, when we shed the clothing we had worn in the winter, baring a soft exterior to the outside, we can forget the ferocity of the sun. When the humidity heaves in and the outside feel is 100 degrees or more, we need to put something other than a pair of pants on. And the truth comes out: one of the reasons I rarely wear shorts or skirts? My legs have not seen the outside world since - well, it must have been last July and my legs are pale as bone.

Blisters, pale pale pale skin. Or sun burns, general irritation and bubbling, sweating, these are some of the signs of summer on the skin.

Skin: Our biggest organ. About 20 square feet and consisting of three layers: the top is the epidermis and is used as waterproof, the middle, the dermis, this is the source of hair folicles, and sweat glands, and the lower third, the cutis, is mostly fat. Our tone comes from melanin, which is the very top. So that’s less than skin deep. And yet – skin is a delicate organ and must be treated with the utmost care. The skin is our doorway to sensation, and a gentle mantle for our individual function. We can not escape its language. We must participate with the skin as our flag that speaks without our permission, and let the voice of the skin be a voice of truth that we can consistently rely on. Our skin is our individuality and one of our constants.

The regulation of inner temperature and the protection that skin brings: The trains turn the AC on high, so being in a train car for more than five stops is more like a project in surviving in a freezer. All that works to manage the cool is by sitting or standing very close to the doors so when they slide open you can take a breath, you can relax your shoulders and let the warm air touch your back. What is within is our own and the skin manages the distance with the others.

Flats and wedges. Please no flip-flops outside of a five block radius of your apartment any time in the summer. Five blocks is generous. Your feet will thank you for not being exposed to the oozing sidewalk. This city heat will blow you up like water balloon. Moisture is trapped in damn near everything, so the sidewalk is literally a cesspool and you come home and the bottom of your feet are black with grime: no.  

I lost myself in the sun. The beaches of New York swallow you whole. You become rolling and endless as the sand. Only to rise up raw and red. Skin places you, makes you into landscape. Forces you to interact with the outside. With the care we give our skin, with the textures and gentleness we wrap around it, we are so interpreted by the world.

Songbirds

I open my window at night. It’s still cool in the mornings and the evenings. I feel like I can breathe right with the inconsistent winds flowing forgivingly through. The mornings are bright and lovely as the yards fill with Queensboro birds, and for a moment I consider their call.

Heavy iridescent shimmer on eyelids marks this summer as an eighth grade graduate smiles under a bright yellow mortarboard. Her life is changing now, she must move up, there will be other times in her life that this will happen. But this is the first time this girl is leaving the hallways she spent her entire student life in up until now, a significant change. Her eye shadow is a kind of calling, not makeup that presents as real, makeup that says something, that speaks in color and tone. A bird’s call is a vibration that anyone can feel if they are paying attention, loud, unique, and certain. The song is so complex and high pitched that you can hear them over the passing cars. And why birds? Because the chicks that would survive have survived the late spring and early Summer trials. The birds are healthy now, and in full communication.

What is important to remember, and probably the greatest point of guidance to our growth is the natural world. Birds are strong forces of connection, communication and relentless truth tellers.

Little birds have come up often in folk tradition. A young man who finds the bluebird of happiness is then able to marry a princess. Birds are bearers of both good and evil. This small bird is often a symbol as a cure for feelings of emptiness and futility, they are wake up calls, they are connections, friends. In Grimm's The Sparrow and the Dog, the little songbird frees the dog from an abusive master and takes the dog to eat and drink. Songbirds in old folk songs are truth tellers, often witnesses to horrible events. To the criminal they are deemed to be small and useless. But their voice and wings often are the little pins of vengeance for evil. They are the storytellers. Small birds peck the eyes out of the stepmother and stepsisters in Perrault’s Cinderella. 

We are born with the keen and desperate desire to be understood, to be heard, a baby weeps for understanding. Our task lies in understanding one’s inner call, this original call. It is not our job to make our song, but to identify our song and open our mouths. Then, what will come out will be both complex and undeniably our own and resound deeply within others. This is also a call from generations back, through the passing down of story, through the passing down of communication. We are singing the songs of our ancestors. We will be unafraid to tell the story that we've seen.

Partnership

The whole world is getting consecrated. There is a crowning taking place of proportions we can no longer measure. There is a balance of power like a long arm clasping an orange. We are the people who tell our stories. We are the hands that crown.

There are moments we must step off. Not without courage. Not without strength. We don’t recognize our leering selves. Have I taken too much or was I given something I didn’t ask for? You say once the morning comes. But what hurts the most is the motivation behind that act. The face in the crowd you forgot, an evil eye in the midst of what you had always believed to be a sea of love. I was naive, and then I changed. I was naive and then I was let go. I saw a rot in the core. I try to find an even footing but the floor is not below. I was wrong about this place. Time to swim. What is hard becomes finding the shore together. You find partners when you need them. When you least expect them they reach their hand out and touch your fingers and then you’re there together.

A partnership must be an adventure or it is a prison.

Between two halves there is no whole. There are two halves. The whole must exist first within each entity. So, if that is the case, what is the meaning and subsequent value of partnership? My sun sign is in the seventh house, so here is a rough guide to the importance of partnership: As a business, as a set of agreements. As an acknowledgement of the other person’s autonomy, that two wholes are free. Most importantly, a deep respect for the other’s abilities is acknowledged. It's the heat between your hands; the space that is neither of you but also made by you. An independent energy that’s made by the partnership.

Everything we feared was going to happen is happening. And now the present is a strange place where we are managing the influx of horrible information in conjunction with our everyday business. These very real struggles overshadowed the release of The Carter’s album. Why am I sick of celebrity? Why is art so fake? I used to believe that art could save us and now art is synonymous with lies and escapism when we need to fix everything.

Here is a solutions: Partnership is a joint with two elements connected in a hinge. The forging of the hinge is the terms of the agreement. Rather than two jugs of water pouring into one, the partnership is a mechanism to which the two are connected, giving and taking. The complexity of the hinge is where the power lies. One must crown the other because neither will back down. 

On Audrey Hepburn

In my dream I was carrying an Air France Ziplock bag. She was in a slideshow - Audrey Hepburn, that is, as an example for someone to look up to. She was an example of elegance and diplomacy, entertainment and conviction. Frailty and flexibility. Can I say fashion and fun? As a victim of World War II, she was a child of fascist parents, but despite their leanings, she developed a humanitarian motivation and would end up being an ambassador for UNICEF when she was much older.

But before that, she made movies that ranged from ridiculous to disappointing. Her characters were completely dull and stereotypical. (Everything other than Audrey Hepburn with a cat and a cigarette holder is complete trash in the Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I encourage you to read Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote and have a tissue at hand.) But she did take the role over Marilyn Monroe, who was the more obvious call girl. The role was rewritten for a mysterious brunette bachelorette whose flippancy was watered down by a somber past. No blond could play as serious a woman as that.

As was Hollywood tradition, she married multiple times, but kept an even narrative with no great blowups, she was not highly lusted after or sexualized. Like the little black dress that blends into the room. She didn’t make much noise, so she seemed to go where she pleased.

Indeed, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s Unique, rebellious, and in that way, was able to create her own identity. She never belonged to any one career or to any one person. She continued as you would step over stones on a lake. With focus and mild direction.

She wasn’t really ever an actress. When you think of Audrey Hepburn you think about her line. The way she moved. Her body. Funny Face is an entire movie of Hepburn in different haute couture. And the great scene in which she dances for a long time. Her frame that later came idealized is said to have come from malnutrition when she and her family were starved during the Nazi invasion of Holland.

She was a icon for beauty, simplicity, and fashion. One of her greatest achievements was Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn that ran through Perennial Productions and for which she won an Emmy. The entire show was Hepburn in the 90’s investigating the gardens of the world.

When I think of her I think of the quiet actions she made through her life. Physical gestures and features. Neutral and with restraint. But this mastery of neutrality allowed her ultimate freedom of identity. 

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