Sunday, June 29, 2008

Infinite Regress: The Saragossa Manuscript

Infinite Regress

I watched the Netflix DVD of The Saragossa Manuscript this weekend -- all three luscious black-and-white hours of it. It's a cult mind-bender of a movie, produced in Poland in 1965, and quite the experience. It's almost as convoluted and confusing as Inland Empire, with stories within stories within stories (within stories), like a Russian doll. Saragossa was the favorite movie of Jerry Garcia and also among Martin Scorsese's favorites, which perhaps tells you something. They both had a hand in its preservation and restoration, as did Francis Ford Coppola. Recommended if you're after more than pure entertainment from a movie, and if you like puzzles. More here:

Bright Lights Film Journal | The Saragossa Manuscript

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Essay Contest Loser

Essay Contest Loser

Here's an essay I entered in a local magazine's "Life Along the Hudson" contest. It didn't win, or even achieve runner-up status, and I realize now that it's way too negative for such a boosterish magazine. (It wouldn't have fit too well among the real-estate-oriented ads.) It probably has other problems, too. Nevertheless, I enjoyed writing it, so why not put it out there....


For 17 years, from late 1989 to 2006, I lived a half block from one of the smallest and least known parks in Hudson County: Riverview-Fisk Park in Jersey City. It was the site of some of the most pleasurable, reflective and shocking moments of my life.

Located between Ogden and Palisade Avenues at the top of a cliff, Riverview-Fisk is a narrow "vest pocket" park with inspiring views of the Hudson and Manhattan. Packed into this small urban oasis is a gazebo, a playground, a basketball court, a community garden, a bronze bust of Henry Hudson, and pathways that wind around ancient trees and amoeba-shaped green spaces.

The most enjoyable times I spent there were with my young son. I remember teaching him not to be afraid of a playground slide, how to ride a bicycle, and how to catch and hit a baseball. When he was very young, the park was our fantasy land. He dressed up like a cowboy with a (squirt) gun, a knight in shining (plastic) armor, and a pirate who waved a (rubber) sword. The adults in the park were agreeable enough to pretend to be terrified during his play-acting; the other kids, depending on their age, were amazed or simply rolled their eyes.

I would often take long walks by myself in the park, especially when I had something to think over. When I was fired from my job in New York, and found myself with lots of spare time, I became one of those sad-faced people you sometimes see in public places, the slow walkers who seem to have no particular destination. After rambling for a while, I would often sit on a bench for a few minutes, gazing at the New York skyline and wondering where it had all gone wrong.

Some might say I should have been working on my resume or making phone calls, but I didn't think of that time as wasted. I needed to reinvent myself, professionally, and I had to figure out which direction to take. So as I trod those meandering paths and stared at the river, I gradually came to conclusions about what a really wanted, something I wouldn't have been able to do while "keeping busy." That's one of the things parks are for, I think: they give us space to think, away from the all our high-speed, hyperlinked madness.

The park wasn't always a refuge. My most memorable experience there took place on September 11, 2001. That morning, my wife, Beth, left for her job at 7 World Trade Center as usual, and I made sure my son got on his school bus. I puttered around for a while, then sat down at the computer with a cup of coffee. The phone had rung twice earlier, but I hadn’t bothered to answer it. I played back the first voice-mail message. It was my sister, who never calls me. "I saw on the news what happened at the World Trade Center," she said. "I just wanted to know if Beth is OK...."

The next thing I remember is being in the park. The Twin Towers looked like smokestacks billowing immense plumes. The park was filling up with spectators, and someone had a radio. I heard that the Pentagon had also been hit. "Am I awake or asleep?" I asked myself. I decided I was awake.

Then the first tower collapsed, accompanied by gasps and a chorus of "oh-my-gawds" from the crowd.

I began to have a peculiar feeling, one that I’ve only experienced a few times in my life: a contradictory sensation of time standing still while events rush forward at a terrible speed. Involuntarily, it seemed, I climbed up on the iron fence at the side of the park that faces New York. I watched a huge cloud of smoke rise, as if an atomic bomb had just exploded. "What about Beth?" I thought.

She was fine, it turned out. She had caught one of the last PATH trains out of the city, just before the entire transit system shut down.

I never felt quite the same about the park after that. When I visit it today – I still live close by – I don't think of it as a sanctuary or a place of innocent fun. Now, for me, that view of the river opens an album of memories: some beautiful, some melancholy, some terrifying.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Alfred Hitchcock The Birds Barbie Doll - Mattel - Hitchcock - Dolls at Entertainment Earth

For the Birds

My wife is into collecting unusual Barbie dolls and creating sculptural art with them (long story). Maybe I'll buy her this one:

Alfred Hitchcock The Birds Barbie Doll

I'm sure Hitch would approve. He was always interested in novel ways to promote his films. And he once presented Birds star Tippi Hedron's daughter (Melanie Griffith) with a doll that looked exactly like her mother -- in a tiny toy coffin.

(via boynton)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

candent - Word of the Day

Word of the Day

candent (adj)

Glowing because of, or as if from, intense heat

"If you are out in the desert or on an island far from the mainland, the Milky Way can be genuinely astonishing. In its full splendor it is a scintillating, candent pathway across the sky...."
--James Elkins, How to Use Your Eyes

Hmm. I've always wondered why our galaxy has a candy-bar name when most other heavenly bodies are named after mythological figures or eminent scientists.

Monday, June 16, 2008

100 Acorns - Yoko says...

Yoko says...

"Tell us when you first noticed the sky."

That's one of the 100 Acorns: 100 days of new conceptual instructions by Yoko Ono. So far, they seem more open ended and interactive than her "Grapefruit" instructions of the pre-Internet 1960s, which were more like mind games (e.g., "Hammer a nail in the center of a piece of glass. Send each fragment to an arbitrary address"; "Imagine the clouds dripping. Dig a hole in your garden to put them in.") Amusing? Intriguing? Annoying? You decide.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Oryza sativa?

FreeRice is a word-game website that tests your vocabulary. For each word you get right, they donate 20 grains of rice through the UN World Food Program to help end hunger.

It's fun, and a worthy cause, if a bit gimmicky. Their stated goals are to:

1. Provide English vocabulary to everyone for free.
2. Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

I don't quite get the connection between the two. Why not just donate the rice? It's not as if demonstrating word knowledge on a website generates cash to buy more rice. Maybe it's a consciousness-raising tool? In any case, it's a pretty addictive, feel-good diversion.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

comic strip

Sin Titulo is a weekly comic strip that revolves around a David Lynch-style mystery. Black-and-white and sepia graphics are appropriately noirish. The comic has been around for a year, but you can probably click from the first page to the current page in about a half hour. It's addictive.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Today's Synchronicity

Today's Synchronicity

While standing in the check-out line at the grocery store, a man behind me was talking on his cell phone about Russian authors and the Russian intelligentsia of the late 19th century. (That in itself is pretty bizarre for this neighborhood.) Two women who were also in line behind me were at the same time conversing in Russian. They didn't appear to be with the man on the cell phone, and they paid no attention to him. Odd.