Thursday, September 23, 2010

Crosby's Unexpected Gift to Baseball Fans

It’s a surprise to see Bing Crosby, pop culture’s most important forgotten man, on the homepage of the New York Times online, but there he was on Thursday night, a beautiful black & white picture from 1947.

The subject: baseball. A complete video of Game 7 from the 1960 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees——"the best game ever"——was found in his wine cellar last year by an archivist going through his video collection for potential DVD releases. MLB Network has now struck a deal with Crosby Enterprises for the game to be broadcast with interviews and wrap-arounds with Bob Costas.

Crosby had a passion for the technical side of his trade—microphones and magnetic tape sound recording equipment. The story is oft told that a guy named Jack Mulligan, a U.S. Army Signal Corps engineer during World War II, discovered the advancements the Germans had made in high-fidelity recorded sound and brought them to Hollywood. He got a meeting with Crosby, who immediately saw the practical and commercial value of the technology, and he invested in both the tape technology and the machines to replay it. Crosby preferred the relaxed atmosphere of a recording studio to the that of a live radio session. With recording he could control the final product. He could also produce shows ahead of airdates, and so could go fishing and hunting more often.

One of Crosby’s other passions was baseball, which he exercised by his coownership of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The two passions came together when his superstition about the World Series lead him to leave the country, lest he bring them bad karma, and simply listen to the game on the radio in Paris. But he knew he would want to see it once it was over, and so he had it recorded.

Like the MLB’s archivist said in the article, it’s an amazing time capsule. The snippet on the MLB website shows the game in its purest, black and white best. No high production values, no virtual advertising on back field walls, just great athletes, like Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, and Bill Mazeroski playing the game at the highest level.

And best thing about it, the Yankees lost.

Update: The online comments on the article are just great. So many memories for so many people. And the passion of the fans comes across strongly. Here's my favorite:

"As for Maz's homer for the ages, that ranks with my first kiss, my first time behind the wheel of a car and watching the birth of my first child for all time thrills."
Martskers, memphis

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The English, and History with a Capital “H”

The picture of the octogenarian Queen receiving the octogenarian Pope in Scotland as a head of state is History, with that capital “H.” The Queen, the defender of the faith that came down through Henry VIII and built an Empire, with the successor to St. Peter.

Political and religious enemies for centuries, besides the fact it’s an Englishwoman receiving a German, both who were alive during the London Blitz. The 20th century is not yet entirely over.

From The Guardian's post visit editorial: "The pontiff's taking of tea with a Queen whose coronation oaths swore her to defend "the Protestant reformed religion established by law" is quite something. The papal praise poured on Sir Thomas More – the martyr who died defending the pope's power against the crown – in Westminster Hall would once have been likened to the gunpowder plot. The 5 November celebration is a reminder of the historic reach of anti-Catholicism in popular culture, just as the Act of Settlement is testimony to the sectarian origins of Britain's high politics."

The Pope addressing Parliament, the Pope in Westminster Abbey, two events connected to the very heart of English history. We’ll have to see if these actions will have any actual meaning for our 21st century.

I admire English Catholics. When the Reformation came, staying true to Catholicism meant financial and social ruin and possible death. It’s that supreme individual understanding of the point of it all--a belief that they would lose their eternal souls if they followed Henry--that makes the criminal acts of the 20th century institutional Church all the more obscene, if that’s possible.

Pope Benedict made several non-apology apologies on the visit for the moral bankruptcy of the church that allowed pedophile priests to work freely within its ranks. Every statement he makes about it angers me because he continually deflects straight out responsibility. Just one example from hundreds:

"I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers.”

“Especially within the Church and by her ministers
” !! This is a debating tactic, to connect the specific to a larger situation to imply that the specific is not unique. Well, the pope is not responsible for the generic concept of children who are abused, so nobody cares what he “thinks” about that larger suffering. Just take responsibility for the “especially” part, and cooperate with civil authorities to see that priests are punished under the law of the land, as well as those who enabled them.

Garry Wills explains how even the beatification of John Henry Newman is an intellectual manipulation by Benedict:

“Pope Benedict XVI is the best-dressed liar in the world. And in England he presided over the best set-designed lie imaginable.”

And Then There’s the Real Church
Though England is a secular Christian country, there is a very real “otherness” for its Catholics. When I was at University in Southampton, I was put in a particular dorm flat where everyone was Catholic, from Wales, Scotland, and England. And everyone on the other floors were not. It's the only time I was segregated like that as a Catholic. I can respect that given the history there, it was the safe thing to do.

But the "others" are of course in the stream of life too. When I was in London last summer I was shopping in Selfridge’s and wanted to get to the noon Mass at Westminster Cathedral, the main Catholic cathedral, but not a real tourist definition.

I didn’t have much time so I jumped in a cab. Because I’m American I thought the cab driver would assume I wanted the tourist destination of Westminster Abbey, so I repeated Westminster Cathedral, not the Abbey twice, and the driver said, in one of those great colorful London accents, “I know it well, luv, I got married there 40 years ago.”

That’s what’s important. English Catholics in simple, daily life.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reader Appreciation Post

Whenever I need a quick laugh I read through the New Yorker cartoons collected in the New Yorker cartoon bank. This one really made me laugh.

And it reminded me to say ‘thank you’ to you who stop by here and read my posts.

You have many other options for your reading (and flying) pleasure, and I appreciate the time you spend here.

I will try to keep any actual barking to a minimum.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 9 Years Out

The remains of the South Tower, taken by photographer Joel Meyerowitz.

No politics, just impressions.

A post by my film blog spouse Mr. Peel about Die Hard 3 reminded me of part of my ongoing reaction to the attacks. If I’m watching a film or tv show where I expect to see the Trade Center-—like Working Girl, or Die Hard 3, or Sports Night—-then I don’t think about them much.

But when I’m surprised by seeing them in fiction, then my reaction goes from flinching to sobbing. It's happened watching Friends in syndication years after the attack, in early episodes that sometimes used quick cuts of lower Manhattan. Rewatching Northern Exposure for the July anniversary—Joel in “The Quest” steps into the fog in Alaska and emerges on the Staten Island Ferry in front of the Towers. And watching Spike Lee’s 25th Hour in a mall in Budapest (Pest) in 2003. That lead to much sobbing in the dark because I had no idea what the story was about going in to it.

Spike Lee Got It
From David Edelstein’s Slate review: “Although the novel and the screenplay (both by David Benioff) were written before 9/11, Lee injects New York's tragedy into the mix. He opens with a shot of two beams of light where the twin towers once stood. And as Monty and a dog he has picked up wander the city—perhaps for the last time—-we see a steady stream of American flags and memorials, even Ground Zero itself.”

This doesn’t work for Edelstein: “There is simply no connection between the themes of Benioff's screenplay and 9/11, and every time Lee over-inflates the story, he loses its real pulse. In one sequence, Jacob and Slaughtery stand before a large picture window with a prime view of Ground Zero. . . . All that registers for the audience is the pit; and Lee ends the scene with a long, mournful shot of bulldozers clearing away what once was the World Trade Center.”

Edelstein has a unique take on the film, but I disagree about the 9/11 “not working.” The movie was filmed in New York in 2002 and Ed Norton’s "father" is a firefighter. Spike Lee knew that the enormity and obscenity of the attacks became a part of every story of every New Yorker, even the fictional ones.

Treme: New Orleans Knows New York

The most recent example of flinching happened watching the HBO series Treme in April, which is set in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Spoiler Alert!

One of the characters drives to the Canal Street Ferry, which brings people to Algiers on the West Bank. He is seen in the stern on of the ferry smoking a cigarette, and then he’s gone, drowning himself in the Mississippi.

The last shot of the episode is of a parked, empty car. As the camera pulls slowly back, you see that it the parking lot at the Canal Street, ferry dock and his is the only car left.

The car left in the parking lot.

I’m a girl of the suburbs, and so it reminded me of all the cars sitting in commuter train stations on Long Island and New Jersey and Connecticut because their drivers went to work on a Tuesday morning and did not come home. It’s one of the saddest, most telling mental images of the day for me.

And the thought of all those wives, husbands, mother, fathers, brothers or sisters who at some point had to go and get those cars is a small, heartbreaking detail of the devastating picture.

A picture of 2,977 flags on the lawn of village hall, Massapequa Park.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

And the Summer MELTs Away Beautifully

I don’t follow the dance world, but I was happy to connect with it last night because Marcy Schlissel who owns and runs the pilates studio I go to, Body in Motion, was performing in Noemie Lafrance’s site-specific dance installation, MELT.

To describe the piece reads like a Salvador Dali painting: the site is the Salt Pile (where the city stores mounds of salt, patiently waiting for snow season), under the Manhattan Bridge. The salt is under an open-sided shed within a large chain-fenced area, the south side of which has a huge concrete wall. On this wall are hanging 8 chairs, anchored by hooking onto the top (think of over-the-door hooks for wreaths), of varying heights.

From LaFrance’s Sens Production website:

“Eight dancers perched on a wall and wrapped in sculptural beeswax and lanolin costumes are slowly melting away, progressing in euphoria and exhaustion as if approaching the sun, melting until their souls escape their ephemeral bodies and disintegrate into light.”

The lanolin makes their bodies shine-—it’s what is actually melting from them onto the wall.

My first impression of the site was Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days—-that stage has piles of sand and Winnie, buried up to her waist. Alastair Macauley of the NY Times had the same thought:

“ ‘Why then just close the eyes — and wait for the day to come — the happy day to come when flesh melts at so many degrees,” says Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days,” up to her waist in earth. Later she mentions “this hellish sun” to whose light she is exposed. It is by no means sure that the day of eventual melting will indeed be happy.’ Winnie’s words come to mind while watching Melt.”
(Ah, memories of Fiona Shaw as Winnie at BAM.)

Macauley likes the picturesque nature of the piece, but doesn’t like the whole. “As theater, however, it’s tedious. . . . There’s no real drama in the changes or contrasts of movement. For more than half an hour, a single idea is on display.”

I agree that there is not a clear narrative idea on display, but it is not tedious at all.

A Haiku for Life

It was a satisfying experience all around: being in that strange, sweet spot under the Manhattan bridge, hearing the F train loudly rumbling above; the presence of the salt pile itself—-every New Yorker knows of its importance after a blizzard. The sky turned from a vibrant cyan when they started to night, complete with the Evening star. The piece had interesting undulations—-the first time the dancers snapped to a complete horizontal pose was alarming. There is a sense of frustration and defiance in the motion: the women's movements are restrained by their circumstances. In the energy in their leg and arm movements you feel that they long to move more freely, but since that's not possible, they do the most with what they can. A perfect haiku for life.

Lighting creates moments of shadow and darkness between the blinding moments, the electronic crickets bring the sense of the country in mid August. There are flashes of synchronized swimming, and solo moments. One thing our experience did not include was personal meltings. It was a coolish 70 degrees when the piece started.

MELT was first conceived and performed for the Black and White gallery in Brooklyn in 2003 for 3 dancers. From those pictures, it’s easy to see how much it has developed and deepened, and The Salt Pile has to be its prime site. LaFrance is reworking another earlier work, Rapture, that she staged for 2 aerial dancers on the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center/Annandale-on Hudson. The new piece will be performed on Frank Gehry building around the world. I’m really looking forward to seeing it at the IAC building.

Have a great weekend everyone.

(The Brooklyn Bridge from the Manhattan Bridge. My photos, expect the yellow one, Guy LaFrance.)

Friday, September 3, 2010

You Can’t Hurry Love . . . It’s a Game of Give and Take

“New Yorkers Want Islamic Center Moved, Poll Finds”

One of the undercurrents of this summer has been the drone over the proposed “ground zero mosque.” Every word about this has been parsed and argued about: mosque vs. cultural center that has a praying room; what constitutes near—across the street? across two streets?; Muslim vs. Islam; is the developer Sharif el-Gama the driving force, or Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf? It’s called Park51, for its address at Park Place, although it’s called Cordoba House (a name that carries a lot of baggage) by the developer and imam, and their official website makes a distinction “Park51 is an independent project led by Muslim Americans for all New Yorkers. This project is separate from the Cordoba Initiative and ASMA.”

Nick Kristof
likens the opinion that the center shouldn’t be built on the proposed spot to “taking Osama bin Laden’s side.” That’s a pretty obnoxious statement.

In fact, anyone who questions the wisdom of this building, at this point in history, is quickly labeled a bigot by those who believe that their love and understanding of our Constitution entitles them to abuse those who see things differently.

Call me whatever you like, but that community center should not be built in lower Manhattan at this time. And it has nothing to do with fear or hate or “tolerance” and “freedom of religion.” The Muslim community is free to worship in this country and our city and has legal rights for real estate development like anyone else.

Buildings, however, are by nature a communal enterprise. In New York, all buildings have to jump through layers of hoops. It’s part of the DNA of this city that it’s a tough place to do anything, for just about anyone . . .

Would You Believe, Congestion Pricing?

Let’s look at another New York endeavor for comparison. Mayor Bloomberg deeply believes that congestion pricing is essential for quality of life in the city in terms of people coping with traffic and for air quality. He first introduced his idea for a plan in 2007! He has fought valiantly to make this happen from every angle.

But the “community” wasn’t buying it. The environmentalists applauded the idea, but a myriad of other constituencies opposed it. Now, you would think that Bloomberg would be powerful enough to wrangle support and make it happen.

But he couldn’t. His desire did not happen because the community of New Yorkers said no. It’s an organic thing sometimes, no one player is powerful enough to make something happen or prevent it, but the aggregate of wills wins the day. That’s how it’s always been.

Let’s turn to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. He has an idea that it would be healing to bring the Muslim community into very close proximity to the site where the Twin Towers stood until Islamic terrorists flew commercial planes into them. Well, New Yorkers simply don’t agree with him.

A majority, though of course not all, of New Yorkers simply disagree with what he thinks will be healing. All of city living is a social contract, let’s see it as the public side of a relationship. And just as in a relationship you can’t make someone love you, you can’t make New Yorkers do anything they don’t want. Just ask Mayor Bloomberg.

Forget the Closed Window, Rejoice in the Open Doors

So let’s say that that window for the Imam’s idea is closed to him. But there are so many doors that are open for him and his idea of healing. Having a high-profile Muslim center in New York is a good idea. Maybe midtown would be a good place, where so many New Yorkers and tourists converge in daily life, away from the rawness of Ground Zero. In the 9 years since the attacks, we have not seen much of a presence of American Muslims decrying the extremists. We have not seen much outreach to the city’s other more visible religions for lectures, joint projects, community sing-ins, picnics in Central Park, whatever.

Let the Imam create those programs, those dialogues now. The only issue anyone has is the location. Why is his generous idea for healing so tied to that particular piece of real estate?

I hope the imam can be a beacon for outreach and dialogue. It could mean that the children of all those parents lost on 9/11 have an easier way to meet and befriend some of their Muslim neighbors. Then maybe, when the grandchildren of all those killed on 9/11 are old enough to run things, they will propose a special center, across the street from the resting place of their grandparents, for their Muslims friends. Now that would show there had been some real healing.

I sincerely hope an Islamic center is built soon, in some part of the city other than lower Manhattan. It would be best for everyone: for those still grappling with the rawness of the immense loss, and for what Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has said he wants to show: that Islam is a religion of compassion and love.

To read more

Wiki page on Park51, Includes interesting quotes from prominent Muslim leaders. The conservative ones do not support the center anywhere near Ground Zero! Above images of the site and architect's rendering are from this page.
Park51 website
Christopher Hitchens, Interesting background on Rauf. Not as moderate as he purports.