Tuesday, January 27, 2009

nest houses

oh how i'd love to live in one of these.

See more of Patrick Dougherty's 150 twig art installations here. Curator Linda Johnson says: “Dougherty’s works allude to nests, cocoons, hives, and lairs built by animals, as well as the manmade forms of huts, haystacks, and baskets, created by interweaving branches and twigs together. Many of his works look ‘found’ rather than made, as if they were created by the natural force of a tornado sweeping across the landscape. He intentionally tries for this effortless effect, as if his creations just fell or grew up naturally in their settings.”

nyc alleys at night

images by phatwalrus

Friday, January 16, 2009


While waiting what seemed like hours for my plane to unload on the runway, I noticed this NYC-bound plane next to us, parked at Gate 13 and marked with "666". I immediately deemed it the Unluckiest Plane Ever, and joked to my seat neighbors that it was a bad omen for my return trip to New York in a few days.

Less than 24 hours later, a plane crashed into the Hudson River, proving my hyperbolic blanket statement wrong, and also making me think twice about poking fun at omens.

I never thought it possible for people to survive a plane crash. I hardly pay attention to the safety talks at the beginning of flights, shrugging it off as unnecessary - I figure if we're going down, none of us really stand a chance anyway. But after the incredible emergency plane landing on the Hudson River yesterday and the rescue that salvaged everyone's lives (except for the geese caught up in the engines), my mind is blown.

Matt's office is located near the site of the crash, and he and fellow coworkers watched the scene from their office window:

[via mattyu.ca]

150 people owe their lives to the pilot, who I understand did a masterful job of landing the plane with its nose elevated, which kept it afloat long enough for everyone to be pulled from the passenger cabin. Pilots are said to have a job defined by excruciatingly long stretches of boredom followed by moments of sheer terror. Thankfully, this guy worked brilliantly under pressure and deserves all of the acclaim that is currently rattling through the media.

We New Yorkers are quite familiar with our own personal terrors of low-flying planes. After more than seven years, my heart still leaps out of my chest every time I hear the rumble of a loud jet engine, so I'm doubly glad that this time resulted in something we can all cheer about. But regardless, I'll be bringing my parachute, drysuit, and superhero cape with me in my carry-on luggage on Sunday. JUST IN CASE.

And here is a view of what passengers onboard flight 1549 missed - early twilight over the Hudson Valley, exactly 24 hours before, sans birds:

Friday, January 9, 2009

skeleton dance

morbid anatomy

The National Museum of Health and Medicine has been uploading pictures to flickr since September 2006 that portray the human struggle with disease. Photos span almost the entire 20th century, showcasing rare diseases, epidemics, iron lungs, war injuries, and astounding medical procedures (such as the replacement of a nose with a finger).

The archivists have created several flickr pages, which can be seen here, here, and here.

p.s. The Library of Congress has been doing the same.

man on wire

"On August 7th 1974, a young Frenchman named Philippe Petit stepped out on a wire illegally rigged between New York's twin towers, then the world's tallest buildings. After nearly an hour dancing on the wire, he was arrested, taken for psychological evaluation, and brought to jail before he was finally released. Following six and a half years of dreaming of the towers, Petit spent eight months in New York City planning the execution of the coup. Aided by a team of friends and accomplices, Petit was faced with numerous extraordinary challenges: he had to find a way to bypass the WTC's security; smuggle the heavy steel cable and rigging equipment into the towers; pass the wire between the two rooftops; anchor the wire and tension it to withstand the winds and the swaying of the buildings. The rigging was done by night in complete secrecy. At 7:15 AM, Philippe took his first step on the high wire 1,350 feet above the sidewalks of Manhattan."

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Last night, Matt and I made it through the full 4 hours of Che, which is playing in its entirety (both halves with intermission) as part of the Special Roadshow Edition at IFC. We preceded the epic with a che-lebration of Cuban sandwiches and mojitos at Casa Havana:

The movie picks up well after The Motorcycle Diaries left off, as Che meets Fidel Castro in Mexico City and leaves shortly thereafter on a boat for Cuba. It portrays his rise to power during the revolution’s conquest of Havana, and then follows as he leaves Fidel’s Cuba for Bolivia and toward his demise.

While we don’t see too much blood and gore, we see more of the man behind the icon that’s forever imprinted onto our memories like a brand - though we are still prevented from getting too close. Soderbergh only hints at Che’s personal life and uses it as a distant backdrop to the time spent in the jungle, in the mountains, and in combat. The communist principles that Fidel’s revolution brought with it to the Cuban government had to work their way up through the ranks too, and we see this come through again and again as Guevara points out to his troops the mistakes they make that exhibit individuality over the benefit of the entire group. He comes across as someone whose principles determine every action he makes, and color every situation in which he finds himself.

However, during his rise and fall, his principles resound with different notes. We see his defiant slogan “homeland or death” serve both as a rallying cry behind which Cubans push their revolutionary front all the way to the capital, and the heavy weight that pulls a doomed Bolivian resistance down to its end. In the final moments of the movie, we watch his death through his own eyes, notably absent of the vision of a revolution and instead staring at a pair of boots and a dirt floor. I was reminded of Che’s famous (reported) last words: “Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man”. While to me, those words always meant that the revolution would never die with the death of just one man, I felt in the final moments how much of “just one man” he really was, alone amidst a failed insurrection, dying in the way that icons are not supposed to.

While watching the movie, I couldn’t help wonder what certain others would think of it. Back in 2007 while I was in Guatemala, I met several former guerrilleros, and for most of the movie, I thought of Amaro. I climbed Tajumulco – the tallest peak in Central America - with him and his 70-year-old father Pedro Cifuentes. Amaro, or Ronaldo as he also went by, had returned to Guatemala to join the guerrilla movement after his family’s exile to Mexico during Guatemala's civil war. He had gained an education in Mexico due to some intervention on behalf of the guerilla, and so he felt a need to repay the movement by returning to fight for them. He later spent eight years living and fighting on Tajumulco as a guerrillero.

I climbed the volcano with them in a day and a half, carrying one night’s worth of equipment and food, and still view it as the most difficult physical exertion I’ve ever experienced. For Amaro, it was nothing. Those who lived on the volcano had to make the trip often in one day, carrying up to 60 pounds of food and supplies on their backs, while sometimes under military fire. They often went without food, due to the difficulty of transporting it. The nights up there are also frigid - and many didn't have tents. But they played a crucial role in the war - they had set up a radio station in the volcano’s crater, sending off radio broadcasts to the highlands of Guatemala that informed campesinos of the activities of both the military and the guerrilla, information that Rios Montt would rather have had suppressed. The army searched for years for the source of the broadcasts, even going as far as Mexico and El Salvador, but never thought to look in the most obvious place - the overpowering peak that loomed over them at every moment.

As I sat on the summit early in the morning on the second day, with the sunrise casting a fragile light over the lip of the crater and onto its empty contents, I began to realize for the first time the utter size of the movement, how so many people adapted their lives to living on the brink of death. I couldn’t imagine spending 8 years there, the long sprawling days, idle hours of sitting up there and looking down on a land filled with war and turmoil, with Rios Montt’s bloodthirsty army (backed by US interests) lurking behind every tree.

I remember the strange quietness up there, an effect of the ridiculously thin air. As we ascended the volcano, I had heard voices echoing from somewhere. Disorienting voices that sounded like they were coming from behind me, next to me, below me. As the clouds parted, I followed the direction of the voices and found their source – there were people climbing a peak from across a ravine, yet I could hear their entire conversation. I stopped in my tracks for a few moments, wondering what it would have been like to live there, each day hearing sounds from near or far, never knowing if i was hearing the sound of a stick breaking across the ravine, or the sound of a gun safety being clicked off just behind my ear.

But the sounds weren’t the eeriest part - it was the clouds. After setting up camp toward the end of the first day, I wandered through the trees, taking in what had been both the home and dying place of many rebel fighters. Since we were in the middle of Guatemalan rainy season, the afternoon cloud cover was growing thick and the rain would soon start below us. I stood holding onto trees at the edge of a steep drop-off and watched the wall of clouds roll toward me. They moved past me and over me until they surrounded me, and the effect was disorienting. It was like a sea, with waves ebbing and flowing, the momentary relief at seeing my surroundings again and the vague panic when everything disappeared again. Sometimes I caught a glimpse of movement next to me, yet when I spun around thinking someone was there, I would see nothing, a shadow quickly lost in the white. As I turned to leave, I noticed how the clouds all rolled with me through the trees, moving swiftly, steadily, silently, and I walked as if accompanied by an army of ghosts, back to the camp that Amaro had set up.

Maybe it was because of this experience that I found myself consumed by the scenes where Che and his troops moved steadily through the jungles and the mountains. In order to live such a life, you would need to voluntarily give up all of your comforts, live under deplorable circumstances, and face death in the form of a thousand possibilities each day. As Che put it, you need to live as if you were already dead. How many of us would be willing to do something so drastic for something we believe in? To give up everything, even our names, and accept a rifle? While the image of Che Guevara can take on the nature of either a superhero or murderer, depending on whom you ask, I think back to those I met who had fought similarly in the mountains of Guatemala – everyday people, the jokes they told, their favorite foods, the longterm injuries they sustained but took in stride – and I begin to suspect that most of us have it in us to do such things. We’ll just never know it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009



(via matt and fffound)

through the gates of the sleepy silver door

I'm used to taking pictures of the industrial world by day, but the other night, I found myself walking the streets of Bushwick with my camera in hand. Midnight is apparently the hour at which the colors start creeping out of the cracks.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

theremins and dio RAMAS!

Last night, Matt and I went to see world-famous thereminist Pamelia Kurstin play at the Issue Project Room. I was expecting a night of spooky ghostlike sounds in a, well, spooky ghostlike setting, since the show was located in the Old American Can Factory, a 19th century complex at the Gowanus Canal. To add atmosphere to an already strange night, the sky was filled with backlit clouds, and as we wandered around the desolate area past empty condemned buildings and construction sites lit unnaturally by fluorescent lights, even Matt agreed the night had a creepy feel to it.

Was the show everything I expected? Not quite. When Pamelia first came out, she approached the mike and spoke as if she were playing a recording of her voice in fast-forward high speed motion. Something about a party in another room and a vodka cranberry. Hmm. She first played a lengthy set of what she described as a “work in progress”, a tapestry of complexly woven sounds, deep bass lines sliced out through the air with her right hand, and her left gesturing in a unique sign language as she arranged the pitch. Notes whirred and wavered like ghosts, and vibratos echoed like sounds you would only hear from a 1950s B-movie spaceship. The piece was dark, heavy, theatrical, yet moved freely through the air. I liked it a lot. Though we soon realized that this part of the night was only the beginning. There was lots more in store for us.

Before intermission, Pamelia invited 2 friends onstage to perform a comedy act (huh?!). Neither turned out to be comedians, as they both admitted and which was also readily apparent. After trying out a few jokes on the crowd and being met with a cold response, the girl brought out her friend Cecil, an old vaudeville ventriloquist dummy that she had bought for $300. Cecil promptly announced that he hated the theremin, and proceeded to repeatedly hiss and whisper to the crowd “You’re all dead!!” and “There’s poison in the wine! Mwahahaha!” Since I love scary homicidal dummies, I thought it was hilarious and immediately found in Cecil a new best friend, but the rest of the crowd seemed slightly more hesitant at meeting his acquaintance. Especially when he told a 9/11 joke and a terrible Sarah Palin joke that even I (as in myself) didn’t find funny. Even Cecil was straining at this point.

We had 20 minutes of much-needed respite, during which we recovered, slightly. Matt and I wanted to give Cecil the benefit of a doubt and sample the poisoned wine, but we decided that we should probably not put ourselves to sleep if we wanted to make it through the second half. At the end of intermission, Pamelia announced that she was going to have more friends (more friends??!!) come onstage and play with her for the rest of the show. Enter: Stian Westerhus (Norwegian avant-garde guitarist), Seb Rochford (giant-haired British drummer), and Shelley Hirsch (Brooklynite and human sound-effects machine). Cool.

When Shelley came to the mike, she said she was first going to tell us a story about Pamelia, and much in the spirit of Cecil, she began to tell us something we weren’t exactly expecting. Apparently, when Pamelia was 15 or 16, she was staying with a family on a farm somewhere in the midwest. Pamelia wanted to milk a goat, but chose one that wasn’t pregnant. The goat got a little PO’d when she started yanking on its nether regions, and so it began to pee... sideways. Pamelia laughed hysterically at this story, in her one-of-a-kind high-pitched laugh that always seems to take a while to get out of her system. This was, if anything, a dark foreshadowing to the awkwardness that would follow at the end of the show. We just didn’t know it yet. (Don’t worry, we didn’t witness any sideways peeing).

The second set was pretty cool, actually. Since it was going to be an improvised set and Stian was the only one onstage with whom Pamelia had never performed before, she made him begin. There were a few awkward moments as he began to set up when she pointed out how nervous he must be, and he began to laugh uncomfortably, and she began to laugh her chipmunk laugh again. We all followed suit in an effort to break the tension, looking around to find solace in other audience members.

But then he started playing and we momentarily forgot the strange events that were unfolding. His guitar was set to play a number of effects, and later, he figured out a way to echo the ethereal whirs of the theremin. I was a fan. Seb, short for Sebastian, was good too, altering the intensity and speed of his drumming to match the mood. Shelley, at first, was hard for me to get a hold of – her performance fell somewhere between scat and schizophrenia, but her humor and skill got the better of me. Matt and I even found ourselves laughing out loud at points when she cleverly worked in references to the goat story, masterful rhymes (pajamas! Dioramas! camARas!), and even facebook.

However, the minutes began to really drag after a certain point, and several times, everyone onstage except for Pamelia seemed ready to end the show and go home. Around this time, I began to take notice of the amount of wine Pamelia was drinking, as evidenced by her purple-stained lips and teeth, and I started to think “omg! is she going to stop tonight? Will we be here forever? OMG!!” I learned the hard way that those fidgeting, seat-shifting trapped-at-a-show moments are far worse than having your life threatened by lifeless wooden objects. When would it end?

It finally did, or so we thought. The music stopped, at least. Pamelia came to the mike to say what we all hoped would be a thank-you-good-night. But she, instead, talked about pee again. She announced she wanted to play another set after everyone went out to the bathroom to pee. Shelley saw the opportunity and made a mad dash out the door, as we all wondered “Is she coming back? Are they really gonna play another set? Is there really poison in the wine?? We’ll never leave! NOOOO!!” Not wanting to leave the stage or mike unattended, Pamelia continued with her pee talk, asking random audience members what we thought Shelley was doing in the bathroom – number 1 or number 2? This led to a monologue of her thoughts on “taking massive shits” and people’s need to just announce it already instead of covering it up by saying they were just to have a “tinkle”. The fidgeting and seat shifting continued. At this point, we were silently willing the comedy duo to take the stage again, anything but this.

But at last, Shelley returned, unaware of the dissertation on her bathroom activities that had developed during her absence. And an audience member volunteered to get Pamelia more wine so she would stop talking about it (Noooo!!! Don’t do it!!!). Pamelia had promised the set would only last 2-3 minutes, and after a few moments of loud blasting heavy-bass jamming, Shelley made sure she stuck to it (thank you!!).

As the music came to its final descent, Matt and I made a mad dash for our coats, scarves, hats, gloves, why did we bring so many things for christs sake, but it was too late. Pamelia took the mike again. And again, she talked about pee. “I would like to thank the audience members who held their pee long enough to stay tonight. If you all get bladder infections as a result, don’t blame me. Cuz you know, that’s the thing with bladder infections…” and she went on and on. However, much to the rejoicing of all, the guy who helps run the issue project room took over the mike and said good night. We were all free to go into the night, shivering, but not from the cold.

Pamelia was brilliant on the theremin, but I don’t know what got into her last night. Matt says she’s quirky like that. I think it must have been something in the wine after all.

Damn, we should have had some.