Today at the DBR: Who has the time? (For television, that is.)
Archive for the ‘Gotham’ Category
Even though I’ve got a bit of sore throat, and could really use a day at home (writing writing writing), I got myself to the Morgan shortly before eleven this morning for an outing with Quatorze and Lady D. (Lady D, although new to these pages, has been resident in New York City for nearly fifty years, a stylish British secretary right up to her retirement from an eminent foundation — and still stylish.) It was all my idea: we would look at the two world-class illuminated manuscripts that (a) happen to be domiciled in our fair city and (b) have been unstitched for one reason or another, making it possible to mount all the interesting pages at once.
Of course, no one but specialists knew about the more recent of these manuscripts, the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, until the day before yesterday. The prayerbook, broken up into two books by an unscrupulous dealer in the 1850s, had only recently fallen completely into the Morgan’s possession. The sheer novelty of the book’s presence in New York harmonizes deliciously with the novelty of the book itself, which is not your father’s book of hours. Indeed, it seems designed to suit a post-modern agenda. Scurrilously humorous marginalia are a hallmark of medieval devotional manuscripts, but the trompe l’oeil jewelry (a rosary, a necklace, some gold coins) and the outsize naturalism (moths, shellfish, pretzels) completely up-end any idea that you might have of Fifteenth-Century miniatures, while the scenes in the margins often upstage the vignettes at the center of the page. The jokey quality of this book of hours is best characterized by the utterly immodest image of the donor/owner herself in the margin of a vignette featuring Mary and the infant Jesus. Mother and Child appear in timeless attire, but Catherine has the air of an ambitious hostess from Massapequa who has just tottered off the LIRR with only seconds to spare for her lipstick. It is not surprising to learn that Catherine spent the better part of her marriage waging war on her husband. Military war, that is, with battles and dead soldiers.
In other words, the Hours of Catherine of Cleves really does belong here in New York.
The Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, also belongs in New York, because it is best known for not being the Très Riches Heures of Jean d’&c, which belongs to the collection at Chantilly, outside Paris. Fantastic as the TRH is, I’m devoted to the Belles Heures, and have been ever since I first saw them, many long years ago (more than forty), at the Cloisters. I can say, I think, that this creation of the Limbourg brothers (natives of Nijmegen, it seems) is the first work of art that I loved on my own and just for itself. Of course, it is not just a work of art. It has a literary/liturgical quality that, as regular readers of this site will not have to be told, made a profound impression on my teen-aged mind; the “book of hours” is more than ever a construct with which I live in deep communion from day to day. I may not be a believer in the higher object of the book of hour’s devotions, but its varied regularity is sacred to me. And it is so taken for granted that I can see how beautiful the art of it all is.
The borders of the vignettes (illuminations) of the Belles Heures are relentlessly uniform, with only the smallest variations placed among the sprays of ivy that delicately frame quire after quire. The vignettes themselves, however, are magnificent final expressions of medieval narration, where space is temporal as well as physical. (See the illumination of Gethsemane, for example.) In contrast to the vignettes in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, which are earnest but rudimentary early-Renaissance scenes, the illumination of the Belles Heures is accented by Gothic arabesque. There are crowd scenes that might remind you of Giotto, until you remember that Giotto called a halt to that sort of medieval shimmying and swaying. The compositions of the Belles Heures are Giotto, if at all, before Giotto.
The parade of spot-on images exhausts any idea of comprehensiveness. The Office of the Blessed Virgin begins with the Visitation of St Elizabeth and ends with the Flight into Egypt. The Office of the Passion begins with the Agony in the Garden and ends with the soldiers asleep over an empty sarcophagus. Catherine of Alexandria is the subject of a virtual novella, and the stories of St Jerome, of Saints Paul and Anthony (with their red Red Sea), and of St Bruno and the Chartreuse all inspire mini-cycles of illumination. The suffrages — miscellaneous prayers to the saints — bring stirring dramatizations of the doings of Saints George, Nicholas, Ursula and Charlemagne (!), and of course St Michael the Archangel. Amidst all this colorful glitter, the somber grisaille of Passion’s Nones is almost lowering.
In between our museum visits, we had a jolly lunch at Demarchelier. Lady D told us about the appalling organist at her parish church, which is down in Turtle Bay. The woman is not so bad at the keyboard, but she can’t carry a tune to save her life. There came a moment when Lady D could stand now more, and she stopped her ears with her fingers. This was, unsurprisingly. noticed. After the service, the harpy asked Lady D if “she had a problem”! Indeed she did, our Lady D, and “since, after all, she did ask me, I told her what was wrong.” Whereupon the organist demanded Lady D’s name (she didn’t get it). Imagine such goings-on! At dinner, Lady D’s story was repletely corroborated by Kathleen, who, for reasons of her own, has sat through many services at the selfsame church. One thing’s for sure: neither Catherine of Cleves nor Jean de France would have put up with such incompetence. But that’s what the Church has come to, no?
¶ Matins: At New Geography, Aaron Renn looks at the outmigration of the middle class from “cool” cities, and attributes it, persuasively, to the failure of civic responsibility among “global” elites.
Clearly, the current models for organizing metropolitan areas are wholly inadequate. In our view, layers of government (state, country, local, school district) ought to be replaced by types of government: highly coordinated networking authorities (transit, power, hospitals) coexisting with highly localized service providers (schools, clinics, and parks). (via The Morning News)
¶ Lauds: Cityscape critic Blair Kamin is surprised to be supporting the destruction of a shed designed by Mies van der Rohe. The accompanying photograph is a bit of a tease: the shed hides behind a fence. (Chicago Tribune; via Arts Journal)
¶ Prime: PIMCO’s Mohamed El-Erian finds in the Dubai debt standstill “a reminder to all: last year’s financial crisis was a consequential phenomenon whose lagged impact is yet to play out fully in the economic, financial, institutional and political arenas.” We knew this, but it’s great to hear it from an eminent fund manager.
In our own front yard, Wall Street’s influence inside the White House needs to be muzzled, if not baffled. (Telegraph; via Marginal Revolution)
¶ Tierce: Michael Bond briefly but lucidly reviews Eli Berman’s Radical, Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism, a new sociological study that, notwithstanding its title, sees beyond the religious angle. (New Scientist)
¶ Sext: Nico Muhly, writing from Amsterdam, finds “a sort of childlike pornography” in Nederlands orthography. (This vanishes when you learn how to pronounce things.) He is also “obsessed” by the common digraph, ij. (via Snarkmarket)
¶ Nones: Predictably, Sunday’s election in Honduras settled almost nothing, even though Porfirio Lobo appears to have won more or less fairly. The Honduran Congress will vote today on whether Mel Zelaya will finish out his term in office. (NYT)
¶ Vespers: n case the popularity of a current blockbuster has you wondering if you’d like to read the book, Jenny Turner not only reconsiders her review in the London Review of Books but also supplies a list of blogs that offer highly entertaining spoilers about the later novels in this peculiar series.
¶ Compline: Having got wind of special treatment for denizens of the eastern-most block of West 61st Street on Thanksgiving Day, Clyde Haberman investigated in person. His worst fears are confirmed. (NYT)
OMG! We meant “Pakistan”! (BBC News)
¶ Matins: The editors of The Awl analyze today’s NYC ballot, and render a nice distinction between “douchebaggery” and “dickslappery.” By Frank Rich’s account, things were much more exciting upstate — until just before his column went to press. (NYT)
¶ Prime: The economics of Swedish meat balls — which we share for the woo-hoo fun of being in completely over our heads! (Marginal Revolution)
¶ Tierce: Eric Patton sighs over the beauty of Italian, while collecting a nice armload of local street signs for you to puzzle out. (SORE AFRAID)
¶ Sext: In case David Drzal’s Book Review rave didn’t convince you that William Grimes’s Appetite City is an absolute must-read, we’re sure that Jonathan Taylor’s more expansive review at Emdashes will do the job.
(At first, we believed that ousted president Manuel Zelaya was an idiot. Over time, we came to appreciate the fact that Roberto Micheletti used to be his mentor.)
¶ Vespers: Daniel Menaker considers Tim Page’s Parallel Play, an expansion of the New Yorker piece in which Mr Page shared his relief at finally having been diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome. (Barnes & Noble Review; via The Second Pass)
¶ Matins: Is there such a thing as good luck? Ayn Rand’s fans are certain that there is not: hard work is everything. Jonathan Chait assesses the Rand legacy in light of this conviction, at The New Republic. (via The Morning News)
¶ Vespers: John Curran, author of Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, lists then top ten titles in her ouevre. How many have you read? (Film adaptations don’t count!) (via Campaign for the American Reader)
You’ve got to wonder when Apple is going to change the name of the iPhone. The phone part of the device increasingly seems like an afterthought, not the main attraction. The main benefit of the device is that it does everything. How do you choose a name for the device that has everything? Hell if I know.
¶ Matins: The nation of which Amsterdam is the capital is rightly considered to be one of the most densely-populated sovereignties in the world. But it’s as empty as Arizona when compared with the former New Amsterdam.
¶ Prime: Bob Cringely reconsiders the virtual university, and obliges us to do the same. What seems at first to be an unlikely monstrosity may indeed provide the most effective education for most students.
¶ Tierce: Assault By Actuary: the Bruce Schobel Story. Or not, since, perhaps for legal reasons, Mary Williams Walsh never does describe the crime of which the (then teenaged?) in-and-out president-elect of the American Academy of Actuaries was convicted.
¶ Compline: In a Talk piece from this week’s New Yorker, ”Zoo Story,” Lauren Collins registers the general public’s dislike of the seating arrangements in Times Square, as well as its approval of the Thigh Line and the Eyeful Tower.
¶ Prime: Felix Salmon provides some helpful background on the most upsetting story of the past weekend. Here’s hoping that he’s right, and that “life settlements” won’t go anywhere this time around, either.
¶ Compline: Failure and free markets: is it any wonder that the inhabitants of a small island kingdom would be far more risk averse than the settlers of a resource-rich continent? Peter Goodman filters last week’s election through contrasts between Japan and the United States.
¶ Nones: Visiting Dansk on the 70th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denounces the Nazi-Soviet pact as “immoral,” and deplores the Russian atrocity at Katyn in 1940.
¶ Compline: We only just finished reading “Critical Shopper,” Justin Wolfe’s magnificent essay on the pleasures of reading about exotic foodstuffs and expensive scents, neither of which he expects to sample in this lifetime. Take your time, but be sure to read it yourself!
If classical music is dying, as we’ve been hearing for years, why are so many rock clubs suddenly presenting it? And why are so many people, with the young outnumbering the old, coming to hear it?
¶ Prime: How about some advice? We may not follow it, but we’re always interested in hearing what someone else considers to be good advice. Especially when it’s phrased as a reminder: “My needs don’t motivate anyone.”
¶ Matins: Impressed by Apple’s emailed receipts — no paper! — Chadwick Matlin looks into the costs of “retrofitting” other retailers, and finds that they’re not inconsiderable. “So I begrudgingly and all-too-appropriately wave my white flag. You win, receipts.” (via Good)
¶ Tierce: Tweeting, the old-fashioned way: Robert Keith posts commercially-printed “ads” in the window of his Brooklyn bed-and-breakfast: “Credit Default Swaps Should Be Prosecuted — Not Paid.”
¶ Matins: Sounds like a great idea, but probably isn’t: “As Voter Disgust With Albany Rises, So Do Calls for a New Constitution.”
¶ Lauds: Sounds like a great idea, and probably is: “Scottish laser pioneers lead way in preserving world heritage treasures.”
¶ Matins: Edmund Andrews’s story about Ben Bernanke in this morning’s Times is strangely silent about the contribution of that self-made moron, Alan Greenspan, to the mess that Mr Bernanke has had to clean up.
¶ Prime: Why not call it the Goldstein Curve? Robin Goldstein culled data from Craigslist (and Felix Salmon turned it into a lovely scatterchart), revealing the inverse relationship between used car/bike prices in seven American cities.
¶ Tierce: Crazy or visionary? The developers of a building to be called 200 Eleventh Avenue (West 24th Street) plan to attach a garage to every apartment — just off the living room. (via Infrastructurist)
¶ Vespers: Garth Risk Hallberg reminds us of something that has been gently overlooked in the recent craze for All Things Julia: Mrs Child was not so much a great cookbook writer as she was a great writer period.
¶ Matins: The High Line may be cute, but we disapprove (an understatement) of elevated highways in urban areas. So does everybody with a brain. Jonah Freemark and Jebediah Reed contemplate the elimination of seven American monstrosities.
¶ Matins: Josh Levin consults “the world’s leading futurologists” to hear how the United States might come to an end within the next century. Not that it will; just, how it might. (via The Morning News)
¶ Tierce: Christopher Shea may be forgiven for wondering: “But how many pieces about Child’s cultural significance can media outlets run before it starts to look as though reporters and editors have a financial stake in the forthcoming Nora Ephron movie about her?
For half a century she acted the part of Astor sultana with skill, cunning and almost indecent joie de vivre.
¶ Compline: Although it’s a rather long read, we urge you to take the time to digest Mark Oppenheimer’s compassionate profile of two Holocaust-deniers who have fallen out — so much so that one of them no longer denies the Holocaust. (via MetaFilter) (more…)
¶ Tierce: The poor jury — they haven’t been able to do a thing all week except show up and leave. Today, the lawyers argued about evidence again: the admissability of Pearline Noble’s diary. (Don’t ask.)
¶ Sext: We can’t tell you how wet we think this iPhone app is. What’s more infurtiating than some guy strolling through a subway station as if he actually knew where he was going — instead of following Exit Strategy.
¶ Vespers: It has been so long now that we’ve misplaced the lead that took us to The Neglected Book Page, where, as you can imagine, one thing leads to another. Pretty soon, we were perusing a list of 100 unread novels.
¶ Compline: Villa Trianon was a dump in 1906, when Elsie de Wolfe and Elizabeth Marbury bought it for $16,000 and turned it into a showplace. After World War II, Elsie turned it into a showplace all over again. Now it’s a dump. My good friend, George Snyder, is looking for a willing millionaire to save it. Do you know one?
¶ Bon weekend à tous!
¶ Matins: Ross Douthat writes lucidly about the the problem posed by someone like Sarah Palin to American politics. It has a lot to do with that problem that Americans don’t like to admit that we have: class distinctions.
¶ Prime: Felix Salmon argues very persuasively against subjecting credit default swaps to regulation by state insurance commissioners. Although slightly daunting at the start, Mr Salmon’s entry is definitely worth the effort.
¶ Tierce: They wanted to put Cecille Villacorta away for a long time. But her lawyer, Joe Tacopina (get his card, now!) convinced the judge that the Saks saleslady had been trained to increase her commissions by sending kickbacks to favorite customers.
“Basically, Cecille’s saying, ‘You told me to do this. You trained me to do this. I made you $27 million. And I became a defendant,” Tacopina said after court yesterday.
¶ Compline: According to Psychology Today [yes, we know that we ought to stop right there], parks occupy an astonishing 25.7% of New York City’s surface area! That’s what density makes possible. (more…)