Category Archives: Art

Europe Part I: London & Paris

London

In London, bees are allowed inside pastry display cases to taste the wares. Would you like a bee with your cinnamon roll? Here, take three. D names the birds for us in Regents Park—wood pigeons, coots, moorhens.We climb up to sit in front of bronze lions in Trafalgar Square but cannot climb onto their slick backs. The double decker buses make you feel as though you’re running over just about everyone. B+D bring us to Chinatown for bubble tea and jianbing as though we were in China and not London after a more traditional meal of fish and chips where I decide I like ijl’s haddock better than my cod and the tartar sauce is surprisingly sweet. And a nighttime view of Big Ben and Parliament. And clouds with a heartbeat within Covent Garden. P1130060 P1130052 P1130059

The next day, by the London Eye, the most aggressive street performer ever with a bullhorn and a request not to leave until after the finale. And a 5 pound charge, of course. We explore the British Museum and Tate Modern, always free. Cranes crown the skyline of London—I count fifteen then stop because there are still more. After walking over Tower Bridge and past the Tower of London, touts on Brick Lane beckoned us for dinner, ask if we’re hungry. The true answer is yes. The correct answer is probably no. But we say yes anyway and we’re led into, not the restaurant we said yes to, but to another, connected through passageways between dining room and down the stairs where we listen to bankers discussing their salaries which, surprisingly, are lower than we’d expected unless we heard wrong. We get thalis, one vegetarian and one not. The chicken tikka is the best, in my opinion, along with the lamb curry. Ijl likes the tikka masala which is different from ones I’ve had in the states but maybe too creamy for my taste. P1130067 P1130073 P1130077 P1130079

Then there’s brunch with B+D the next morning and a walk along Little Venice, small canals lined with houseboats. Most carry sticks and broken panels of wood, perhaps to heat the boats during the winter? Atop some are full gardens and bicycles lying upon their sides. Then Portobello Road Market with a crush of people buying pina coladas in pineapples and supposedly, antiques as well. And a quick ride to St. Pancras Station for our Eurostar train to Paris. P1130081

Paris

We stay in an adorable studio on Place d’Aligre in the 12th Arrondissement, a street that curves around a plaza so it is easily recognizable on a map. Our first night, we get crepes at Les Embruns, made of buckwheat, and the crème brulee I get is full of vanilla flavor but the sugar top isn’t crispy the way I like. In the morning, a market starts up with antiques vendors in the plaza and fruit & vegetable sellers on the streets. I get a pint of tiny Charlotte strawberries to go with our chocolate croissants, sweet and just right for 1.5 euros. We start out late but wander through the gardens by the Louvre up to the Grand Palais where they’re holding a fine art & design fair. Pay our 10 euros and enter the glass canopied venue with stalls and stalls of furniture, glass, jewelry, and other forms of art from around the world. P1130088 IMG_20150913_084958

It’s a stormy day but thankfully, our host lent us an umbrella of rainbows to take with us to see the cathedral at Notre Dame. Along the way, there are gold covered statues atop buildings and bridges, ornate in a way you don’t see in the U.S., like the temples in Thailand covered with gold leaf. The cathedral is beautiful, of course, but crowded. It’ll be a pattern here in Europe, these beautiful, crowded cathedrals and basilicas. We take the bridge over to the smaller island on the Seine, Île Saint-Louis, for ice cream at Berthillon where the flavors are so vibrant, it seems more like gelato than ice cream. What flavors? Pear & mango & ground peach.
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For dinner, Le Trumilou for duck confit & chicken in a tarragon sauce. A bottle of red wine. I order the charcuterie for my appetizer which turns out to be a bit of a mistake—all patés, one of which has a very jelly-like texture. The duck confit comes with potatoes that are perfect, so crispy and smelling of herbs. IMG_20150913_181012 IMG_20150913_181006 We leave the umbrella by accident and ijl has to go back to get it. And we learn that Brooklyn has followed us to Paris. IMG_20150913_193212

And then there is the Louvre. We take the lesser known entrance by the subway & mall yet there’s still a long line that snakes through the mall. I ask a Chinese tourist in Mandarin whether it’s the line to buy tickets. Funny how it feels more natural to ask a Chinese tourist than a local but my high school French is pretty lacking. We spend hours at the Louvre, watch other tourists take photos of the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, see the tablet with the code of Hammurabi engraved upon it, go through the sculpture gardens for cherubs force-feeding goats in exquisite detail. Wander through its foundations as a fortress and go through its ostentatious rooms of Napoleon III and Louis XIV. In the Islamic art section, there are models of art for the blind that you can touch. Museums make me want to touch everything because you’re not allowed to touch anything. P1130096 P1130095

We take out bikes through the Velib bike share system and ride them all the way to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower only has one area open with a long line and when we get to the front, we’re told that it was only for the lift. The cashier on the other side for the stairs had only just opened while we were waiting but our cashier takes pity on us and lets them know that we’re coming through. The stairs aren’t too difficult actually; we take them up to the 2nd floor before we take the lift up. On the way, we see the lift with its pseudo elevator beneath it holding a fake conductor on the side. Very odd. We are on the topmost level of the Eiffel Tower as twilight blends into night. The wind howls on one side so we go around to the other, pointing out the landmarks we’d seen. P1130130

In the morning, we bike around the Sorbonne and get macarons at Pierre Hermé. I lose my sunglasses while leaping over a curb (we ride dangerously) but otherwise, the bicycling is wonderful compared to NYC. There are bike lanes everywhere and drivers notice bicyclists. Better than taking the subway which, although the trains seemed quick and efficient, the stations smelled of urine. Then it’s off to Geneva!

The strandbeests at the end of the world

Underground, I saw a balloon sailing away along the subway tracks, chest height, lifted by an invisible river. It was a dirty grey, smudged with streaks and had probably seen many subway tunnels in its time. It disappeared through the tunnel and the 4 train came right behind it.

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Near work, in Central Park, the hawks circled the sky and shrieked again and again like a call and response. Mr. Bubbles, as R the doorman calls him, doesn’t even notice, he’s too busy arguing with a Parks staff member who doesn’t like his gallon jug of water. R tells me that Mr. Bubbles, on a good day, makes $300 a day, which isn’t bad for a man who spends the daylight hours making giant bubbles for tourists, but probably significantly less than the man who started The Gazillion Bubble Show (P.S. Trust me, don’t see it. I made that mistake when I was young and naïve and my friends and I thought it was a play.)

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The grapes are growing well in Astoria. I wonder if they’re for wine. I think all the apricots have fallen and the persimmons don’t come out till fall. One house, with its profusion of flowers, never ceases to astound me. It’s a yard of abundance, almost unseemly in its variety and quantity.   IMG_20150603_135925 IMG_20150828_092006

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In the subway car, I saw sky in the window of the car in front, as we were making a turn. A bright blue with white clouds. We were underground; the sky never reached my train car.

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The skies threatened rain during my trip to Cambridge & Ipswich. On the way there, the traffic moving slowly, JB left the car to grab us apple cider donuts from the orchard and sprinted to meet our car which had gained some distance. They were warm and doughy with just the slightest hint of crunch, no sugar coating the outside.

The strandbeests, vastly overwhelmed by the number of people gathered to see them, struggled up the sandy beach with prodding from their handlers. There were two. They moved up slowly, stopped, moved again. And then were dragged backward to repeat the process.

We were told to stay behind the cone. Then a staff member drew a line in the sand, significantly ahead of the cone. Stay behind the line, she said. We moved forward. She drew another line in the sand. Now stay behind this one. And then it was the cone again. It was like a game. But some didn’t follow the rules. Men with toolboxes who just stood there. A woman who was “with him.” The strandbeests toiled up again. Then their sails were folded up and they walked, a slow procession with thousands trailing around, to the other side of the beach and unfurled even more sails.  
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Afterwards, a line of cars to exit that simply didn’t move. Fifteen year old boys to guide everyone out. Folks walking miles into town or perhaps to cars that weren’t trapped in the lot. One woman walking along the side of the road looked as though she would collapse from exhaustion. It was like the end of the world.

Back in Cambridge, we sported our strandbeest tattoos while eating hell fries and huge fried chicken sandwiches. Ice cream eaten right in front of Toscanini’s. Pinochle played in the evening and a half-shaven cat for company. Donuts the next morning in Union Square and a walk up to a tower. Later, over the Mass Ave bridge because I’d forgotten which bridge led to Beacon Hill but the smoots are more scenic anyway. The Boston Public Library as beautiful as ever although the walk back blinded us with a hard drizzle, the Cambridge side of the river a ghost city. P1130019 P1130025 P1130026

Good Ghosts

Things have been pretty crazy here in New York. There have been birthdays and trip planning and future planning and everyday planning like “How do I see my doctor if they decide to go on vacation for several weeks right as I get an ear infection?” July & August: the months when you need to get things done but can’t because everyone’s on vacation. IMG_20150813_192553

So, to catch up, here’s a list of everything.

1) David Wax Museum was a lot of fun to listen to and watch when they played last month at a free show in the enclosed parking lot of City Winery. Suz played the donkey jawbone a time or two (one of its teeth popped out!) and there were plenty of new songs I hadn’t heard before! Crazy to think that it’s been four years since I met them when they came to check out my apartment sublet in Amherst.

2) The Chinese consulate. Nervewracking but not as bad as I expected (judging from the terrible yelp reviews) but hey, those yelp reviews were super helpful in filling out the paperwork. You wait in line outside the building, turn off your cell phone, go through the metal detectors, get your number, and wait for the board to read out your number and tell you which window to go to. Quite civilized, actually. I was a bit nervous when the consulate clerk asked me to explain and write out the topic of my writing since I’d put my employment as Writer. It’s a good thing that folktales aren’t politically sensitive! I’d show you a photo but you know, that kind of thing isn’t allowed. Consulates are serious business.

3) Trip planning because…I’m going to Europe for several weeks next month! And then heading to Shanghai on my residency! I’ve been preparing by eating chocolate croissants and using Duolingo to brush up on all this French that I don’t remember learning back in high school. How did I get As if so much of the grammar seems completely new to me? Unfortunately, trip prep also means trying to get all sorts of medical things done when all the doctors want to go on vacation. But that also leads to…

4) NY bucket list activities! Sri Lankan buffet in Staten Island? Check. Kayaking through the canals of Oakdale, complete with white herons fishing beside us? Check. Bronx Zoo where a lion roared at us five times and we saw an adorable red panda? Check. Lunch at the almighty Googley? Check. (Thanks, T! Thanks, Googley! I quite liked those potato pancakes and the beef- was it pot roast?) Eat a Chickenshack sandwich from Shake Shack? Check and it was alright but nothing too special. Hiking with friends+dog upstate? Check (P.S. don’t let your friends carry two gallons and two liters of water because that is INSANE.) I’ve still got a bunch of things on this yet-to-be written down bucket list like go see Catherine Lan’s exhibit at the Queens Museum, go to the Queens Night Market, win the Hamilton lottery, and eat at every place I’ve ever dreamed of eating at. I’m looking at you, Tortilleria Nixtamal+Ice & Vice+the one and only Arepa Lady! IMG_20150815_124343 IMG_20150807_154536

Also, this doesn’t take place in NYC, but I am so so so excited to see Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests in Massachusetts next weekend! So cool. And it’s a good excuse to bring me back to that area and binge on Toscanini’s ice cream which is only the best ice cream in the world. B^3 for the win.

5) And then there was last week where it seemed as though everyone I’d ever known were suddenly either coming to NYC or facebooking me out of the blue. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but I was contacted by two friends I hadn’t talked to in at least 5 years, one of them probably closer to 10 years. And then I went to see the Furious Girl Tour which consisted of three poets I went to grad school with and it was quite furious indeed. Then my landlord+lady (ha) from 2012 was in town and we got lunch at Ayada Thai—it was really tremendously nice to see them and catch up. Many ghosts but they were good ghosts; in general, I’m mostly pretty happy to meet up with people I haven’t seen in a while. So if you’re a good ghost, you can contact me and I’ll probably get a muffin with you. Or force you to watch some free dance shows.

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Oh and 6) My story, “Westward, Ever Westward” is coming out in Okey-Panky next Monday! It’s short and sweet; I guarantee you’ll like it or your money back.

Literary Geographies

This Saturday was the reading I organized—Literary Geographies: A Celebration of Queens Writers! Thank you to all those who came, from my sister and brother-in-law who drove all the way from Long Island to a high school friend I hadn’t seen in years to JPB who introduced the writers and came down from Boston to friends who made the trek out to Queens from other boroughs. And thanks to the QCA and to the folks at the Socrates Sculpture Park, as well! Although it was incredibly sunny and hot, it was truly wonderful to meet the other writers who read with me—Joanne, Jennifer, and Concetta—as well as other members of the Queens arts community—Joan, Anjali, Johanne. Here are some photos from the event!

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Afterwards, to Break Bar for jenga+pool then Sripraphai for some tasty thai food—crispy chinese watercress salad, drunken noodles, fried taro+peanuts, penang curry, jungle curry, pad thai, crispy taro in warm coconut milk and water chestnuts+jackfruit (indistinguishable!) in bright colors and floating in a thin sugary broth that reminded ijl of cereal milk.

Today, after a morning of doughnuts and badminton, tea and a quick 2ish mile run, I cracked open Ottolenghi’s Plenty and proceeded to make his “Very full tart.” It’s a beautiful tart (although the vegetable/cheese proportions may be off since it would have been overflowing if I’d added every single thing he said to!) and I can’t wait to eat it.P1120894

Sculptures+literature= a great combination

I probably learned that wonderful piece of “mathematics” first at Omi International Arts Center but hey, I’m reprising it here in New York City! Come join me and three other Queens-based writers at a free public reading at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City on July 11th at 4pm. It’s a bit early to announce it (I seem to like to tell people things last minute, I suppose) but I know people plan their summers way ahead of time.

This will be the culmination of my QCA grant and so, disclaimer: This event is made possible by the Queens Council on the Arts with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. The readings will focus on place and I’ve finally finalized my list of readers! They are Joanne Chin, Jennifer Baker, and Concetta A. Ceriello. Yay to discovering new (to me) local writers!

Okay, here’s the official Facebook events page but in case you’re not on Facebook, here are the important details:

July 11, 2015, 4:00pm
Socrates Sculpture Park
32-01 Vernon Boulevard
Long Island City, NY

Here’s a map with directions, courtesy of the park.

Come out and support the Queens literary community and say hello! (Maybe I will make cookies…? No promises.)

New York Spring

I managed to miss my flight to Costa Rica this morning and don’t plan on ever doing such a thing again. So, instead of dwelling upon it, here’s a blog entry!

I. It’s starting to feel like spring again so I take runs along Astoria Park. The melting snow unveils litter but there are flocks of young folks out at the park, taking photos, jogging, or just hanging out. The ice cream truck has yet to make an appearance and I wonder if this summer, there will be lady cops braiding each others’ hair like last year. I like the smell of the briny East River and the avenue of pale-trunked trees that stretch down toward the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, the way they shine golden while the sun is setting. My left knee seizes a bit while I run—I don’t think it’s a big deal. I’ve yet to experience runner’s high though. Is 3.5 miles not a long enough run to experience it?

II. At work, when I’m not busy making appointments or calling companies to get quotes on things or finagling with Lightroom, I occasionally walk the puppy. She’s a golden retriever, about 4 months old, and she loves EVERYBODY and everything. Cute things: running after leaves blowing along the street, how she likes to hold her own leash and try to instigate a game of tug-of-war by growling, how much she enjoys running with me. Not-so-cute things: she wants to play with every dog (but not every dog wants to play with her!), all the other folks who “HAVE to pet her!” (It gets annoying when it’s about the 3rd or 4th or 5th person…), how she wants to eat all the sticks but we’re not supposed to let her. Walking is a rather slow process.

III. I went to two art fairs recently, during the weekend of the Armory show. I’ll admit I didn’t understand much of the art that was shown at Pulse but was quite intrigued by one Chinese artist who used stickers! Hundreds of stickers! It’s pretty interesting. IMG_20150307_144016

I did like the Art on Paper fair much better but maybe because I’m not hip enough to understand the super abstract stuff whereas this fair had more stuff that was just pretty or interesting or maybe just overall, more accessible. I especially like art that is very detailed and show a lot of craft. I thought this piece was pretty cool, like cuts in wood within a wall.IMG_20150307_160958

IV. While doing my laundry the other day, I realized that my apartment has 3 dollies. A tiny red one, a medium-sized black one, and a large blue one. I picked the large blue one. Its wheels weren’t the best as it only liked to go straight and quite disliked turns but it’s funny how many dollies an apartment of three girls need. One for each of us? None of my apartments had ever had one before so I started wondering if it was a New York thing. After all, I usually associate these little wheeled carts with little old ladies, not 20-something year olds but hey, I’m now the one pushing it and my roommates don’t find it strange at all. Soon enough, I’ll start grocery shopping with it…

V. Writing news! Sorry, but actually, there is no writing news. Well, I’ve been writing stories at a decent clip, as well as submitting stuff for grants, lit mags, etc but it requires quite a bit of patience (especially grant apps!) so…nothing too exciting has been happening. Still figuring out plot points for my monk story and need to edit a bunch of my newer work. I also volunteered to read for a contest so there’s been plenty of reading happening. But actually, I’ve probably spent most of my time planning for this upcoming vacation (and still haven’t learned much Spanish.) Oh, and I also funded this cool Kickstarter started by Jed Berry for his new press, Ninepin Press. I’ve heard him read from this story and it’s awesome! Plus lots of bonuses since they’ve surpassed their goal!

I’m sure I’ve done more in the month or so since I last posted but I’m not terribly good at remembering (or maybe all I did was run and read and write and trip plan?) Well, there was eating and Chinese New Year, which is basically the same thing as eating but with more family, and making these delicious cream biscuits, and best friends visiting to go to the Studio Museum in Harlem (really cool!) and eating Sichuan food at Lan Sheng and talks about Manchuria at the NYPL, as well as more eating but who wants to read about all that? Maybe next time, I’ll just write about eating 😛

The Catskills in the distance

Outside my bathroom window, I notice the delicate shapes of tender red leaves unfurling from the boughs of the japanese maple. Out by the kitchen, the azaleas are blooming, a clear pastel hue between pink and purple. The deer congregate in the fields below Ledig House in groups of 4 or more; they lie down and you can just tell them from their ears. It is still bright when we sit down to dinner at 7:30pm yet by 10 in the evening, it feels late, due to the utter darkness around, and the solitude. Y. and L., the ones who arrived with me, left last week and the place feels a bit lonelier without them although there are new arrivals with new stories, of ayahuasca and stalkers, and an explanation of what book scouts do. P1110609 IMG_20140503_185832

I try to bike to Chatham but at a crossroads, turn the correct way but then doubt myself when I see signs for Old Ghent and rolling hills. I turn around and go up the other road before turning around again. A huge empty barn stands by the side of the road and along the way, there are signs for hand-gathered farm fresh eggs for $3/dozen. The Columbia Paper is a tiny house and the local fire department’s clam bake is cancelled because “MOTHER NATURE STOLE THE CLAMS.” A brown hawk, in a small field off Old Post Road, flaps heavily away, when I startle it. When I go running, I am sometimes recognized by the friendly locals (“You flew by us on Quinn!”) but not by the dogs, like the black lab that runs alongside the road on the way to the pigs. The piebald horse, L. said, is a bully, but he comes close to be pet.IMG_20140505_094541 IMG_20140505_095133 P1110612

And here, I am writing a story about Yangshuo and its mountains, so different from the Catskills off in the distance. It feels odd to be writing in a place this quiet and empty about a place that was often filled with people, even out in the countryside. Where you would see tourists wandering around the lotus fields and so many more bicyclists riding by the side of the road. I am often the only one of the road here and when the trucks pass, they leave behind clouds of dust. Funny how hilly it is here where the mountains are in the distance and how flat the terrain of Yangshuo with the mountains so close. The flowers, though, are finally blooming and although it hailed recently, while A.A. and I were running, that’s just the mercurial nature of spring, right? I heard a warbler testing out several different songs and the international residents are delighted by the turtles in the pond. I discovered a new sculpture yesterday, down a path by the marsh I hadn’t known was there. I still love how the groundhogs move, their chubby furry bodies close to the ground as they clamber into their holes then pop up to look to see if we are still there. And the breathy squeaking of chipmunks. These are the things that China and New York City do not have. These are the things I will miss.P1110620 P1110623 P1110626

Country Living at Omi

At Omi, the weather is changeable but the wind often howls outside the windows, high as we are, on a hill overlooking the sculpture park. Young frogs cheep loudly, both during the day and at night, and when the sun sets, it outlines the Catskills in the distance in orange and pink. After dinner, we drink wine and talk by the fire. Once, while it snowed, we drove through winding unlit roads to a bar in a Victorian, neon Budweiser signs in the window. Inside were floral curtains and garlands of fake flowers for Easter, drinks almost half the price of ones in the city. How long has this bar been open, we asked its owner of 37 years. Since the end of Prohibition, she said, and we were the first to sell hot wings around here. On the trip back, three deer bounded across the road, their eyes reflecting our headlights back at us.P1110545

During the day, our home is a converted barn. My room has two twin beds turned into a king, a large wooden table as a desk. In the bathroom, the water smells of sulfur, most strongly when you shower. My room is warmer than the rest of the suite. Upstairs, the rooms have loft spaces to sleep in. During the summer, when this place is for artists, they sleep two or three to a room but in the spring, the writers have more space and less company. Ants wander freely through the kitchen in the main house and once, a hawk soared overhead, barely out of reach. I take runs in a 3.5 mile loop, passing pig pens and cows, beautiful young horses and an occasional groundhog, its small pointed face wary as it watches me from a hole by the pumphouse. In the barn is a silo where we lose ping pong balls in its dark depths and also, studios, some completely empty but for birdshit, and some full with pottery equipment, bicycles, strange machinery. IMG_20140421_134146 P1110595

The sculpture park is set on swampland and there are patches of skunk cabbage everywhere. I sometimes write in the Visitors Center cafe but mostly in my room or the main house. I’ve been here for over two weeks now and have written two pieces: one a longer story set in Harbin, the other a piece of flash fiction adhering closely to the Searching for the Sun folktale. There’s so much here that I’d like to read, not only the books in the library with books by previous residents including Kiran Desai, Gary Shteyngart, and others, but also the books written by the other residents who are here with me. On the weekends so far, we’ve gotten guests from publishing houses, first Jill from Archipelago Books and this weekend, Chad and Kaija from Open Letter and the blog, Three Percent. Both these presses deal mostly with translated work since we have a fair number of translators in residence here and it’s been fascinating hearing about the process of translation and its place in publishing.

This weekend, we did a poetry reading at the Chatham bookstore, many of the works read in different languages. It was a fun gathering and included a young boy who recited a Latin “rage-vent poem” which was amazing. I read my poem, If/then, which I thought was somewhat suitable since it’s about Chinese although I wish I’d had something to read in Chinese since so many people were speaking other languages and it was just fascinating to hear.

The time has been going very quickly, despite what seem like fairly long unstructured days. I’m hoping to get several more first drafts of stories done before I go. It’s a good thing I have ~2 more weeks!