My friend Tim‘s musical Tock Tick is opening at the Prospect Theater on February 5. The enticing blurb promises dragons, seagulls, and interstellar gondoliers, among other things. I am very much looking forward to this show.
M & I went to Seattle and Vancouver earlier this month. Here’s a bit about Vancouver.
Vancouver is awash with construction cranes and gleaming green glass set before a ring of snowy mountains. The city is preparing for the 2010 Olympics, and it seems a city of pretty surfaces and fashionable people.
Our first day we wandered to touristy Gas Town (the closest approximation to an “old town” and hardly a central part of the city or dense mess of winding streets), and from there right into skid row. At the “steam clock”, the major Gas Town landmark, a glassy-eyed man offered us a silver chain in exchange for food. As we moved along, there was a conflux of bearded hobos, gaunt prostitutes, men sleeping in the street; needle exchange and detox centers, shelters for women, and shelters for children . Payle$$ Meats sat beside Mission Possible. Balconies on a halfway house advertised nouns of encouragement: hope, faith, strength, courage.
This concentration of the needy struck us as odd, perhaps because the needy of New York are more diffuse and spread out, and perhaps more hidden. Here they seem to converge in one area, in stark contrast to the high-end gloss of the rest of downtown– the joggers in Stanley Park, the highrises along Coal Harbour and in the West End, the yuppies of Yale Town. The rawness of skid row, I’m told, is older than the prospering sheen of the rest of the city. The institutions (the shelters, soup lines, etc.) are also relatively new.
We walked a good deal that first day, happy to end our wandering with martinis atop the Empire Landmark Hotel, slowly rotating over twinkling Vancouver. We admitted relief at not having been approached all afternoon. Later M. pondered the differences between the homeless in NYC subways and the homeless in Vancouver and other cities, hypothesizing that the relationship the homeless have with the subways here are unique and not present in other mass transit systems. We didn’t take the Sky Train (though really it’s more of a commuter rail) so we couldn’t test the hypothesis.
The next day we were sore and achy and relied on the car. Abundant Granville Market (lunch: bratwurst and designer soda), foggy snow-crusted Kitsilano Beach (just lovely), and the UBC campus, separated from the city by a small forest. UBC was a bit of a disappointment; I enjoyed the small Belkin art gallery, warm and abuzz over a show opening, but we found the design of the campus odd– parallel malls and apparently no welcoming central area. In the dark of the Thunderbird Arena, M. gave me my first driving lesson; I meant to go in circles and instead drove figure eights.
We finished our trip Saturday morning, with dim sum at Pink Pearl, touted as best dim sum in Vancouver. We were gluttonous fiends, feasting on all manner of shrimp, pork, taro, bean curd, and red bean paste-filled dumplings, in all manner of sticky and glutinous or crunchy wrappings. Two pots of tea and two bursting bellies later, were back on the road to Seattle, one last chance to gasp at cool snow-covered conifers, gauzy lakes, and violent mountain peaks.
Despite numerous comparisons to New York (Kitsilano=Park Slope; Mount Pleasant=Ditmas Park), the ecology and the landscape is wholly unique, and gives the place air of something fresh and vibrant. I can’t imagine becoming complacent about those surroundings, but I suppose anything is possible.
A Reading Experience
I picked it off my parents’ bookshelf. It was yellow and brittle, and the cover, designed by Milton Glaser, showed the blue profile of a shrewd-looking man, with red light falling on his nose and chin and where the whites of his eyes should have been. Someone had written “Ghost Motorcycle” on the title page, sideways.
I didn’t know anything about the book– the story, the setting, when Hesse had written it. Mostly I was intrigued by “ghost motorcycle” and what compelled some long ago reader to write those words on the inside of this book that now sat on my parents’ shelf. It surely wasn’t my mother or father–not their handwritings, not their idiosyncrasies.
I had only read one other book by Hesse, Siddhartha, but it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I was a distracted high school senior at the time, ready to leave the country. And the cover of this book gave away nothing– the back copy was just piles of praise for Hesse. So I just dug in, as it should be.
I began reading Narcissus and Goldmund and was immediately engrossed by the medieval world and the innocent, young Goldmund. I enjoyed watching his internal evolution, though I found his teacher/friend Narcissus irritating (not that there is anything wrong with an unlikable character). Hesse writes philosophical novels and I bristled against his pitting art against philosophy, feeling against thought (can’t art be logical? asked M when I told him about the book). The epiphanies at the end seemed to me forced, didactic, more rhetoric than human experience. But not entirely groundless, of course. Just needlessly simplified to make a point (methinks). I won’t say whether art or philosophy wins, in case you plan on reading the book, but I don’t think that would ruin the experience either way.
When I was in an early part of the novel, I asked my mother whether she had read it and she said once, in Romanian. A powerful book, she said, but she wouldn’t read it again. At the time I hadn’t reached the powerful parts (they are there)– lust, love, and most important, the relationship we have with death and the creation of art. I would echo my mother’s estimation. The book is most definitely worth a read, and not just for the sex and death, though they are the main players and the plague is one of the most haunting characters. But it is not going on my list of books to reread. I never found out what “ghost motorcycle” had to do with anything in the book (maybe nothing, maybe some odd mechanism for remembering a grocery list). Perhaps it was some connection only that reader and his or her experience could make with the book. That connection, that meeting of ideas between reader and writer, should be a relatively unique one. Perhaps that is what ultimately irritates me about didactic fiction, that I feel I’m being told what to think, what conclusions to make, rather than leading me to further thinking and my own conclusions. Ah well.
Whew! Things are getting pretty busy around here. I’m finishing my master’s thesis. Vaguely and very broadly, it’s related to politeness, but that’s all I should say at this juncture. I’m applying for writers’ residencies for the summer, and the deadlines are soon after the thesis deadline, so that should be interesting. As a result, I may not be able to post as frequently as before (which I know is not so often, but I prefer a little restraint anyhow).
M. & I are off to Seattle and Vancouver next week, for a much-needed change of scenery. Hope to give an update on that when I get back, as well as jot down some thoughts on Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund, which I finished last week. I may go through fiction withdrawal next semester, as I’m moving into my last leg of grad school. But hopefully I’ll continue to make room for everything!
Oh, oh, last update! I’ve got another reading bubbling up. Will post the details later this month. It’s at a place that recently featured ukuleles, raunchy Flemish poetry, and Ovid on a Celtic harp. Wee!