August 1, 2006

So long Spain

We return to Brooklyn tomorrow where it will be ungodly hot. One weather website predicted it would be 104 degrees (that’s about 40C for you Europeans) but would feel like 112 with the humidity (44.4). Another more optimistic site guesses it will only reach 102 and advises "please remember to water your plants". So we will arrive tired and drenched in sweat. It’s hot here too ("too hot to go swimming" Jenn just announced) but there is zero humidity so it doesn’t feel miserable and nights are beautifully cool.

Did I mention we are back in Madrid. We’ve been eating ham and paella (see below) and catching up on a few last sights.

Hmm... favorites from this trip:

We've seen hundreds of paintings in Spanish musuems, lots of masterpieces. But the ones that stick with me are never the "greats". La virgen del arbol secco by Petrus Christus c 1450 will linger. It’s an intimate canvas full of mystery. The image on the web doesn’t do it justice. The painting hangs in the Thyssen-Bornemisza, an eclectic museum showcasing the collection of the Baron Hans Heinrich Tyssen-Borenmisza and his children. As an aside the Baron's name is a prime example of why I object to hyphenated surnames-they are a mouthful.

The fisherman in Galician villages hang tiny models of their boats in the rafters of the churches. I only visited one of these churches but there are scores. Photo project anyone? Imagine a long exposure on a large format plate done in the morning light as a few of the boats bob in the breeze and the old women pray for the safe return of their men.

The Spanish and Portuguese governments have converted castles and country estates across the respective countries into grand hotels. In Spain the hotels are called paradores, in Portugal pousadas. If you search around the net (and with local travel agents) you can find deals that make these hotels, relatively speaking, affordable. 7 nights for 400 euro, 5 nights for 300 euro etc. You get cards a bit like euro-rail passes. We stayed in a few of these hotels and were impressed each time. Another plus, they tend to be kid friendly while not being obnoxiously kid-centric.

The Spanish province of Extremadura always inspires seeming both familiar (reminds me of the American west or of northern Mexico) and impossibly ancient but I always find myself zipping trough trying to make it back to Madrid for a flight. The eastern edge of Portugal is similarly appealing. If you've ever driven the road from Burnet to Marble Falls in the Texas Hill Country you'll feel right at home.

The subway system in Madrid is clean, modern and efficient. Even the windows of the cars are clear and scratch free, odd but welcome in a city so oppressed by graffiti.

I've probably already mentioned Portuguese beaches too much. We really loved them (and I say this as a non beach person). Do you know the film Mr. Hulot's Holiday by Jacques Tati? It's a bit like that.

That is all for now.

August 5, 2006

Back in Brooklyn

Two girls in bathing suits on a stoop on Hoyt street:

Girl #1: "It’s runny makeup hot."
Girl #2: "It’s riot hot."
Girl #1: "Dead granny hot."
Girl #2: "Did you see Gore’s movie? This is the rest of our lives."
Girl #1: "That’s depressing. Let’s go inside and eat ice cream.
. . .
Nobody notices when it is 102 in Houston. Houston is an air conditioned city. You walk from air conditioned car to air conditioned office to air conditioned mall. Many people in Houston never actually taste summer. New Yorkers are walkers by design. We crowd into airless subway stations. We climb stairwells. Noisy window units try but fail to cool our steamy apartments. Rich or poor there is no other option. We sweat. So when the heat breaks as it did tonight and the temperature drops and the wind picks up, the mood of the entire city lightens if just for a moment. People on the street exiting movie theaters stretch out their arms to feel the breeze. It feels good.

August 8, 2006

To be whispered

I have a secret project.

That is all.

August 9, 2006

When I was cool

A friend of mine asked today, "when was the last time you felt cool?"

Hmmm. Bloggers are decidedly uncool. So subtract a few years. When did this blog start? Married people. Not cool. Now we're back to 2003. In LA I lived in Silverlake, which used to be cool, but by the time I lived there all the cool people had exited for Echo Park or Eagle Rock. I worked in the movies for a while. Cool from the outside, so not cool from the inside. The definition of uncool is being screamed at by your boss while on a Gulf Stream Jet and having the only other people in the cabin, 3 stewardess, snicker as you sit and take it. Also I was working on crap films like the Sabrina remake and IQ. The cool people worked on films like Bottle Rocket and Shallow Grave. My life as a nomadic backpacker... potentially cool for people stuck at desk jobs, but on the road there were always people who went further. When I arrived in Mongolia the talk was of mythic backpacker Ronnie from Tasmania. His exploits were discussed in hushed tones always ending with, "He vanished in the Gobi you know." That guy was cool. College? Please. I wore red socks (virtually every day), wrote a thesis on Chinese bronze casting, and thought it was fun to post xeroxes of raisin bread slices all over campus. Sigh. In high school I weighed about 90 pounds, talked with a deep drawl, and would get very excited when discussing "the world of the future." I was the school photographer. School photographers are never cool. Two words: Academic Decathalete. I showed up to Jr. High with a broken leg and on the first day broke my crutches. I had to hop from class to class. That pretty much ruined it for that year.

The last time I was cool? 1979. I was in 6th grade. Brookhollow Elementary home of the mighty Beavers. Mr. Johhny Futch, the principal (Futch is an unfortunate name for a principal), caught me doing a bit from Steve Martin's album Comedy is not Pretty to a group of classmates. But really I was reciting the bit for Janet, a transfer student from Baton Rouge who had only been in school two months (and would only stay month more before her parents mysteriously decided to move again.). Janet loved Steve Martin. She could talk dinosaurs and she loved orange velour. This last fact she told me over lunch a few days after arriving and within a week I had convinced my mom to buy not one but two velour shirts. One was red but could pass as orange. I told Janet it was tangerine and she deemed it "amazing." Janet was horrified when Mr. Fuchs grabbed me by my chain mid-joke (yes I wore a silver chain) and dragged me away.

Mr. Futch had a glassed-in office visible to anyone that walked by. Picture a square office with two glass walls open to the cafeteria. On the back wall, a painting of a deer and on the other, a big blackboard. In the corner a window and a potted plant. The desk sat dead center. It was bare save for a few framed pictures of deer kills, a soft focus portrait of Mrs. Futch, a microphone, and a large wooden paddle carved from a 2 by 4 and polished to a high gloss sheen. The office smelled of mimeograph ink.

Futch liked to lecture before he doled out punishment and he gravely informed me that "cussing" would not be tolerated. Speaking in a soft voice he contemplated the number of "licks" I would be receiving. One wouldn't teach me a lesson, and I needed a lesson as this was a second offense, but eight might be to much... "five, five is a good number". I was steeling myself for the blows when without warning he was called away leaving me alone in the office. "Don't touch anything," he smiled, "or you're looking at seven." I waited. I scanned for books to stuff down my jeans. Nothing. Ten minutes passed. Then twenty. Outside I saw my class in the cafeteria. They were almost finished and Janet was there. She saw me and made a sad face. I waved. She waved back. The bell was ringing. Lunch was over. I knew my class would be passing the office and in that moment I felt overwhelmed. "SOMETHING must be done," I thought. I looked outside. It was raining. On the chalkboard I wrote in big letters. "I did it for you Janet." I underlined Janet twice. Then I quickly opened the window and slipped out. In less than a minute I was on my bike pedaling full tilt down Live Oak Lane. I knew Mr. Futch would be calling my mom. I knew she would probably be waiting for me. Probably outside the house. She would drive me straight back to that office. But as I rode my bike on that rainy day I was cool as hell. I knew it. Janet knew it, and that's all that mattered.

August 9, 2006

Nadia Sablin

I always love a photographers who look their subjects directly in the eye without flinching or hiding behind a long lens. Check out Nadia Sablin's Baba series. (via Jen Bekman)

August 10, 2006

Email from Tbone

"Once, a mangy groundhog meandered across a hundred yards of barren lawn to arrive at the feet of my father, brothers, and our family dog. The dog was the last to notice the new addition to our party. When the dog finally growled, the groundhog let out a terrifying, human scream, slumped to the ground, and was dead before anything touched it.

The scream bothered all of us for days."

August 11, 2006

What to do if you are caught in a New York City downpour without an umbrella.

1, Step into a deli and ask for 2 plastic bags.

2. Double bag your wallet, camera, phone, etc.

2. Walk home.

3. Enjoy the rain.

August 12, 2006

Baldomero Fernandez

Don't miss Baldomero Fernandez' lush set of photographs titled "Santiago De Cuba" taken on his first visit back to his native Cuba.

August 13, 2006

Ahree Lee

Artist Ahree Lee took pictures of herself everyday from 2001 to 2004 and edited the results together as a movie, a clip of which became popular on youtube. The original can be seen in it's entirety (after an annoying long ad) on atom films.

Noah, it's time to make that movie...

More obsessive photography and time related projects can be found at

UPDATE: The atom link is dead, but you can see the film on youtube.

August 14, 2006

1rst and Houston

It seems like every time I pass the 1rst and Houston there is a couple making out, hugging, or just generally intertwined (in one case a couple was staring deep into each others eyes massaging each others shoulders and crying). If I go through my archives I can probably find a dozen pictures like this taken at exactly the same spot. Upon reflection I realized Jenn and I might have had a few long goodbye smooches here back when she lived on Mott street even though we're generally not big on extravagant PDAs... Hmm.

August 17, 2006

Anatomy of a rotten day.

1. Wake up on the couch with a stiff neck because you fell asleep watching a movie the night before.

2. Find your recently repaired air conditioner broken.

3. Hear an awful grinding sound from one of your hard disks. Perhaps because the room is a thousand degrees without the air conditioner.

4. Haul 100 pound air conditioner down 4 flights of stairs into the car. Air conditioner leaks a sticky oily fluid all over your shirt.

5. Blow out a tire on the Gowanas Expressway in an area with construction and no shoulder. Look desperately for an exit. Drive on a rim throwing up showers of sparks. At some point it dawns on you that this is not wise. You stop.

6. Realize your aversion to cellphones is mighty inconvenient.

7. Abandon your car. Walk several hundred yards down the Gowanas Expressway with traffic whizzing by suffering occasional insults from passersby.

8. Be refused a phone in 7 or 8 businesses because you are drenched in sweat, covered in brown air conditioner grease, and looking wild eyed.

9. Walk back onto the Gowanas and back to your car as demanded by a tow truck operator named Joey who refuses to pick you up at the deli because he would have to go a few blocks out of his way. Arrive back at your car. Pray you won't be rear ended. Wait. Realize you should have picked up a drink at the deli. Argue with a cop who says he's going to have to tow you. When Joey finally arrives almost an hour later his tow truck is blasting a band named Malevolent Creation.

10. Discover you must replace both front tires at a cost of $670. Have the guys at the garage laugh when they give you the bill and say, "Oof. That one stings." One guy adds, "You know your brakes are totally shot. "

11. Arrive back to your sweltering airless office. Grab some things for a meeting in the city. Realize you left important papers from your car in the Joey's tow truck...

Should I continue?

Do over please.

August 18, 2006

Mrs. Yunnisms

Conversations with Jenn's mom:

Jenn: Did you like Franz? [Jenn's former cat]

Mrs. Yun: Franz was ok.

Jenn: Come on mom you never liked Franz. You said you wished he would die because he looked "like man".

Mrs. Yun: Ok. Ok. I'll tell you. It's like this. In Korea people think cat has bad spirit. . . Actually all Korean people hate cat.
. . .
Mrs. Yun: Never sleep under fan. Sleeping under fan you can die. [she's a great believer of fan death] So terrible to die because of fan sleeping.
. . .
Me: It's really hot here again.

Mrs. Yun: Well you know, 'end of world' time. Anything is possible. Better go to church. What if you are left behind? Weather too hot!
. . .

Becky: Mom, Wrinkle jinkle isn't a word.

Mrs. Yun: Really?

Becky: It's just wrinkle.

Mrs. Yun: (long pause) Then what is a jinkle?
. . .

Becky: If you could be any animal for a day which animal would you be?

Mrs. Yun: Animal?

Becky: It's a game, just pretend.

Mrs. Yun: Oh I know. Poodle.

Becky: What - why?

Mrs. Yun: Because no one is mean to poodle. They give good food and brush hair and put ribbon in. It's nice.
. . .

Mrs. Yun: What kind of movie is this?"

Becky: It's Godfather. It's about gangsters.

Mrs. Yun: It's not about God?

Becky: No mom, that's God the Father, this is the Godfather.
. . .

Mrs. Yun: Raul. You should come to see play. It's amazing. There are animal and Jesus is flying.

Me: Flying?

Mrs. Yun: He is flying so much. Jesus can do anything.

August 18, 2006


Twice this week friends have said they had extra tickets to a baseball game but didn't invite me because they didn't think I was "the baseball type.' For the record I love baseball especially live. Even minor league (especially minor league actually), even college baseball. Next time don't forget.

August 18, 2006

Christian Patterson

I've only been through Wisconsin twice (and then on road trips), but Christian Patterson photographs it just as I remember it: here's part of his continuing On Wisconsin series. His show Sound Affects shot in Memphis opens here in NY on October 25 at Yancey Richardson.

August 21, 2006

The Plum Tree

My house in Los Angeles was owned by Esther Williams back in the 40’s. She of course put in the pool. She also, if old architecture magazines are to be believed, planted the gardenias, the palm tree, and the grand old olive tree in the front. She did not plant the plum tree in the back. Plum trees generally have lifespans of only 10-20 years and mine, according to an arborist who examined it, was almost 40 years old. "Extraordinary," she exclaimed while poking and measuring it. And completely unpruned." I had called in the specialist because the tree wasn’t producing fruit and I wanted to see if there was anything that could be done, you know, fertilizer or something. "If you want plums, the best thing would be to chop this tree down and plant another one," came the answer. The poor thing is about 20 years past it’s prime."

If she was right and the tree actually was 40 years old it would have been planted by the hippies who owned the housed throughout the 60’s and into the early 70’s. Silverlake had yet to be gentrified, places were cheap, and according to my 80 year old neighbor Rosita who was born on the block, "Those kids turned that house into a real love shack. There were 11 or 12 of them and they didn't like to wear clothes."
"Where did they all sleep," I asked (it’s a two bedroom house).
"Oh all over the place," came the answer, "there were two of them in the garage, and one of them sometimes liked to sleep out in the back in a tent. You know it was the 60’s. They smoked a lot of grass."
"Do you know if they planted the plum tree," I asked. "Oh they had a whole garden back there.", Rosita smiled, "Plums and oranges and all sorts of lovely tomatoes."

I did not heed the arborist’s advice. I pruned the tree. I made sure it was watered. I found fertilizer for stone fruit trees. But none of this had any effect. Summers came and summers went, and no fruit. At some point my then girlfriend, now wife, Jenn arrived. She breathed life into the house. After she arrived the kitchen was always humming, her actor friends would come and go sometimes doing acting exercises in the living room (she’s a theater director), and once again there was a garden out in the back. Each spring it would fill with heirloom tomatoes, carrots, and squash and winters would bring butter lettuce, arugula, and strawberries. A pair of mallards took up residence in the pool.

And then one day out back Jenn looked up at the tree and said, "Hey... plums," and I ran over, stood under it speechless staring up, and saw the tree was loaded with plums. I practically shouted, "We made plums! We made plums!" Throughout that summer the tree gave so much fruit we had to give some away and each time we would go outside to harvest it felt like a small miracle. Winter arrived, and we decided to move to New York by the end of the next summer. The tree flowered in the spring, but summer came and it was once again barren. Or so we thought. Right before we left as Jenn was doing a final walk around she called me over. There were exactly two plums on the tree.

We sold the house, to an actor of dubious taste. I made the mistake of returning to visit a few weeks after the sale. He had ripped out the garden, was surrounding the place with a high concrete wall, and worst of all for me, he had chopped town that plum tree.

I am not a superstitious man, I don’t believe 13 is unlucky, I don’t believe breaking a mirror is bad luck, I don’t even believe finding a four leaf clover is good luck, but I believe those plums were made for us. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that they would be almost indescribably delicious, and of course they were.

August 22, 2006

Nha Trang

As far as I'm concerned it's always time for Nha Trang. My order:

2 limeades (because one is never enough)
spring rolls
hot and sour soup with chicken
bbq beef over rice

oh joy.

Nha Trang is @ 87 Baxter. Thaison next door at 89 Baxter is also very good as is Nha Hang Pho Viet Huong @ 73 Mulberry (the order here is the beef in grape leaves). My favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Saigon, has been replaced by Doyers Vietnamese @ 11 Doyers Street. 11 Doyers is delicious, but no match for Saigon which had spring rolls that made you forget your name. New York Magazine touts Spice Market, which calls itself Vietnamese, as as one of the best dining experiences in the city. I disagree heartily. Vietnamese in name only.

I've never searched out Vietnamese restaurants in Brooklyn or Queens (there is nothing in Brooklyn Heights/Cobble Hill/Ft. Greene), but the chowhounds have a few suggestions. As my family has decamped for a few days I've been thinking of going out to Elmhurst to look for a good meal. Will report back tomorrow.

August 24, 2006

3:14am Sidney Place

A little while ago, I turned off the lamp which let me see out the window and noticed a guy in a suit standing motionless in the middle of Sydney Place. He's holding a briefcase and he's been like that for at least 5 minutes.

The city is empty, everyone seems to be taking off to enjoy an extended Labor Day vacation. Most all the lights in the houses are dark. I walked home 2 hours ago and for about the last 15 blocks I didn't pass a soul. My family is away so I was returning to an empty house. A few blocks from home, I stopped in the middle of the street myself to enjoy sound of the cicadas and the strange light in the sky coming from Manhattan. I watched the wind in the trees and waited... I might have been that guy in the suit myself for a bit. He's still down there.

August 26, 2006

First Look

A few notes about sonograms for those of you who have never seen one live.

1. Normal sonograms are cross sections (imagine a slice of an apple) so you are looking at the outline... it's all fairly murky when you view them live until you see the beating heart. Usually the doctor will also include an audio monitor so you can hear the heartbeat. Seeing this is all fairly interesting in a cerebral sort of way until you see a turn of the head or the appearance of a hand. Then it gets dramatic, none of this can be captured by a still image. This sonogram was taken fairly early on so there isn't much definition. The baby is the size of a large avocado. Later on the outline of the features becomes much clearer.

2. Most hospitals don't let you take pictures (i did anyway).

3. The doctors give you little printouts... which are invariably illegible smudges. These printouts are on low quality thermal paper which fades, so scan them if you want to preserve the image...

4. There are now 3D sonograms, but the images they produce are a little creepy.

August 27, 2006

Brooklyn 1840's

Check out this census data for Brooklyn in the 1840's. Love the job descriptions:charcoal dealers, agents of the Brooklyn Temperance Society, furrier, ship joiner, wheelright, leecher and cupper, etc...

August 27, 2006

Little House, Part the 2nd

A few days ago I noticed the front door of 135 Joralemon was open. As I've been fascinated with this house for a while, I poked my head inside. The door opened onto a stairway/parlor completely blackened with heavy layers of smoke. There were still pictures on the walls, but they were black with oily soot. I could hear someone upstairs dragging something. I was about to shout out a hello when a voice yelled, "Hey, what the hell are you doing?"

From the upstairs emerged a tall gentleman probably in his 70's. He was wearing soot covered undershirt and thick dirty gloves. I explained myself and my fascination with the house and he softened. "I was born in this house," he said, "I lived my whole life here and it's been in my family a long time. You don't know how wonderful this street used to be." He talked about the neighborhood and told me who used to live in this house and that house and how everyone knew everyone else.

He explained he was in court with ConEdison who he blamed for the New Years Eve fire. "I'm going to win and restore this house exactly as it was." And he started to give me some of the details... walnut staircase, brass hardware, etc. But he noticed my camera again and suddenly became suspicious. "Why are you here?" he asked, "Why are you asking these questions? Nobody cares about this house except people who want to steal it." I explained that I lived around the corner that that everyone on the street cared about the place. Trying to show sympathy I told him how Hurricane Rita had destroyed a portion of my childhood home. "Was anything left?" he asked. Without waiting for the reply he continued, "I lost everything. Everything was burned up. Do you know what that's like? To see your house burned up like this?" Wordless he turned to go back up the stairs. I watched him vanish into the dark and knew it was my time to go.

August 27, 2006

How to take a good picture

When I was 14 I wrote this: "truth, emotion, technique, beauty. A good photograph has 2 of these. A great photograph 3. A photograph you never forget has all 4."

A bit pompous perhaps, but it still basically works for me.

August 28, 2006

Noah Kalina

A few weeks ago I urged Noah to turn his 6 years worth of photo-a-day's into a he's done it. The results are hypnotic...and a little bit sad. The video covers January 11, 2000 - July 31, 2006.

These are the original stills and this is Noah's excellent portfolio site.

August 29, 2006


Just the other day I said I don't believe in lucky talismans, but two ladybugs landing on your hand on the third floor of a Brooklyn apartment at 3:14am (and an apartment with closed windows at that) must mean something right? I just opened the window and let them free.

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