Archive for the ‘Gotham’ Category

Daily Office:

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009


Matins: At last! Jason Epstein’s dream of books-on-demand will be getting a serious try-out, using the Espresso Book Machine (made by a company that Mr Epstein founded), in Manchester Center, Vermont. You must watch the video! (via Arts Journal)

Lauds: Architect Michael Sorkin appraises Manhattan as a pedestrian town, and tries to think of buildings to suit.

Prime: More about Chris Anderson’s Free: from Mr Anderson himself, at The Long Tail; and, in not so loyal opposition, from Choire Sicha, at The Awl and from Brian, at Survival of the Book. A new digital divide?

Tierce: A star is born: Lisa Maria Falcone, formerly a person with money (and, more formerly, a person with no money), seeks a place in Gotham’s philanthropic firmament. A Cinderella story — adjusted for real time.

Sext: We don’t know whether to laugh or to shudder at this Sixty Minutes segment about fMRI mind-reading.

Nones: In futures trading on Iraqi stability, China gains access and standing in the petroleum business — aided by the American Senate.

Vespers: Watch that Tweet! In case you don’t “follow” Alice Hoffman — provoked, over the weekend. by an unfavorable review of her new novel, The Story Sisters, into an authorial “meltdown” — you can real all about it at Salon. (via Arts Journal)

Compline: The always thoughtful Richard Crary considers Michael Jackson, at The Existence Machine.

So I find myself listening to songs I’ve known forever for really the first time, in my own time, paying attention to stuff I’ve taken for granted. And the main thing I’m struck by is the evident rage and pain in Michael’s vocals.


Dear Diary:

Monday, June 29th, 2009


In the kitchen, I’ve been watching Woody Allen’s Manhattan. What this means is that the little TV/DVD player in the kitchen gets paused a lot, while I go off to do something else — sometimes for hours. (I turn the machine off overnight, and it picks right up when I turn it back on.) It’s a very personal way of watching movies, and, to tell the truth, “watching” doesn’t come into it much. It would be better to say that I listen. With vintage Woody Allen, needless to say, this works very well; the jokes don’t seem as appliquéd to the cinematic texture — which, in Manhattan, is extraordinary.

Manhattan is one of the three pivotal movies that Mr Allen made in the late Seventies; Interiors and Stardust Memories are the others. All three are unrestrained imitations of movies by Fellini and Bergman. Not imitations of particular movies, and not imitations in the cheesy “bad” sense, but imitations in the old classic sense, as in “Imitation of Horace” (a poem in the style of Quintus Horatius Flaccus). Visually, they are all extremely successful; dramatically, the tension between the intense look and feel that Mr Allen adopted from the Europeans and the cheeky dialogue of the two black-and-white films is difficult for some Allen fans, while the way too serious, out-Bergmaning Bergman tone of Interiors dares viewers to be bored. Neither Manhattan nor Stardust Memories, however, is an overlooked stepchild.

The grandeur of Manhattan owes a great deal to a third partner: in addition to the great screenplay (written with Marshall Brickman) and Gordon Willis’s gorgeous cinematography, the music is by George Gershwin, and I wish I could say who orchestrated it. (The selections all seem to come from the overtures to Gershwin’s Broadway shows.) What Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff did for an idea of old Russia, Gershwin does for the New York City that still existed in 1979. Mr Allen’s virtuoso use of some of Gershwin’s most romantic tunes, especially as hymns to the sweetness of the young Mariel Hemingway, is just about operatic.

But even though nothing visual about the film is particularly jarring to anyone familiar with today’s city — the cars look a bit out-of-date, but then cars always do — the feeling of everything is somehow different. The Manhattan of Manhattan is a more innocent, more integrated, and strangely less self-conscious place. Manhattan was the first movie to make the visual proposition that New York City is the sophisticated equal of London, Paris, Rome, and the other great capitals that Americans are too provincial to know about. It was a new idea in 1979, and very exciting. Woody Allen made a persuasive case. Nowadays, though, it’s hard to believe that the argument ever needed to be advanced.

Kathleen and I saw Manhattan when it came out — in South Bend, Indiana, where we were finishing up law school. The following year, Kathleen would take a studio apartment in the building that we live in to this day. The fact that we have stayed put has only made the city’s changes more obvious. To mention just one dossier: when we arrived, Eighty-Sixth Street was still the main street of the old Germantown, lined with restaurants such as the Ideal and the Kleine Konditorei. The Old Dutch delicatessen had a sign in the window: “this is NOT a kosher delicatessen.” (Or words to that effect.) For a long time afterward, the space was occupied by a kosher delicatessen. Now, it’s a bakery.

The interesting structure that the German department store, Bremen House, built for itself in the Eighties is now a Pizzeria Uno. (Some of us remember the day that Bremen House didn’t open. It never really closed.) Next door, the tenants at the Ventura apartments must be very unhappy, because all of the building’s vast retail space is vacant. Circuit City was in the basement, and Barnes & Noble has consolidated at a new location nearer to Lexington Avenue. That’s a lot of dried-up revenue stream! Such worries were unknown in 1980.

Come to think of it, thirty years is the life span of most traditional mortgages: a long time in anybody’s book. If I had watched a thirty year-old movie when my daughter was born, it might well have been The Palm Beach Story. Yikes! I wasn’t thirty years old at the time, and PBS might as well have been scripted by Aristophanes as by Preston Sturges — if I’d known about it, which I didn’t. (As it happened, though, I was mad about some movies that were pushing forty, all starring Fred Astaire.) Manhattan, at whatever age, will retain the poignance of having captured New York as it was when I came back to the town I was born in.

I’ll close on a dark note. I’m not entirely sure, but I believe that, in the montage that introduces Manhattan, not one of the loving scenes of the city shows the World Trade Center. I am almost certain that the WTC does not appear in the movie at all. That is very much how we felt about those towers, not just in 1979, but, even more strongly, when they were built. I wonder if, thirty years from now, anyone will remember how deeply New Yorkers felt that a pair of unimaginative spindles had let them all down. Not to mention how we felt, very quietly, later on.

Dear Diary:

Monday, June 22nd, 2009


Nothing happened today. It was grand — until now. Now, I wish that something had happened today.

In the late afternoon, I ran a few errands, involving multiple rides on the elevator. On each of these rides but the last one, the elevator stopped at the third floor. Nobody got on; nobody got off. The last time it happened — and I fancy that this is why it didn’t happen again — my eye was teased by the ghost of a darting wraith, while my ear was tickled by a shriek of glee. Although I didn’t want to get the little ones into trouble, I stopped at the doorman’s desk to report the evident infraction. If you’re going to play with the elevators in New York City, pushing buttons just for the fun of it, you need to know the consequences — before they involve lynching.

You probably think that kids love to play with elevators, but that’s not true. Elevators are pretty boring, really — that’s why we grown-ups like them. What kids are playing with when they play with elevators are the adult passengers. The kiddies on the third floor would have given up the game in two minutes if there hadn’t been hapless old folks (twenty and up) looking a little confused, wonderring if they ought to hold the doors for someone in a hurry. Those of us who can remember being eight years old endeavor to pretend that this sort of thing happens all the time. Otherwise, you’re playing right into the kids’ hands.

Older children, the ones who suddenly find themselves on the hither side of puberty, are fond of pushing all the buttons on the elevator. This always strikes victims as totally dumb as well as unspeakably malignant, but it’s a move worthy of Sartre. By making people who have somewhere to go stop pointlessly at floor after floor, a teenager imposes the tedium of his or her miserable existence on all the humbugs who are delusional enough to think that, just because they’re paying a mortgage and getting laid on a regular basis, they’ve got their act together. Ha!

This is why there is no elevator-game theme park in New York City. You’d never be able to sign up enough adult victims to keep the patrons interested.

Daily Office:

Monday, June 15th, 2009


Matins: In the current issue of The Econimist, Lexington outlines some embarrassing figures about the hours that American children don’t put in at school.

Lauds: Jazz since 1959 — the year of Kind of Blue, Giant Steps, and Time Out — recordings that I hope you have in your collection, whether you’re an aficionado or not! (via Arts Journal)

Prime: A story about the rivalry between Comptroller of the Currency John C Dugan and FDIC chair Sheila Bair illustrates the biggest problem in regulation: updating/upgrading it in the middle of a turf war. (How medieval is “comptroller”?)

Tierce: When I saw the headline of this story about Ruth Madoff, “The Loneliest Woman in New York,” I asked myself how she gets her hair colored these days. Not where she used to!

Sext: Will the Fiat-ization of Chrysler deflate the American male’s libido? Gary Kamiya’s tongue-in-cheek reports ends with a truly dandy suggestion.

Nones: How the United States ought to respond to the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: stay the course already set by President Obama.

Vespers: Michael Dirda writes about Patricia Highsmith in The New York Review of Books: “This Woman Is Dangerous.”

Compline: Barbara Ehrenreich writes about the plight of the genuinely poor in this country, and finds that, just as it is in most places, decent (and legitimate) shelter is the big problem.


Daily Office:

Thursday, June 11th, 2009


Matins: Zachary Wolfe believes (or, at least, hopes) that the future does not look good for a third Bloomberg term. But perhaps Mr Wolfe was writing before the ruckus broke out in Albany.

Lauds: Errol Morris’s remarkable series, Bamboozling Ourselves, looks into art forgeries and other deceptions — although “looks” is putting it mildly.(Master link list here.)

Prime: John Lanchester’s lengthy but extremely entertaining  essay on the banking bailout, “It’s Finished,” has been generating lots of buzz, at least at sites that I visit. Someone wrote somewhere that it ends “unhappily,” but I don’t agree.

Tierce: Toward the end of John Eligon’s account of Astor butler Christopher Ely’s testimony, my heart went into a clutch. The most horrific thing about this trial so far is the damage that it has been done to the reputation of attorney Henry Christensen.

Sext: It’s possible that Matt Blind has been in the bookstore biz too long. He wants to fire all the customers. Find out where you fit in his taxonomy (via

Nones: Michael Sheen meets the Queen. The real one.

Vespers: At The Morning News, Man in  Boston Robert Birnbaum rounds up some good books about Cuba. Sadly, he omits Tomorrow They Will Kiss.

Compline: The Obamas and the Arts: a new model for the United States.

Bon weekend à tous!


Daily Office:

Thursday, June 4th, 2009


Matins: Read the terrorist prototype composite storyline and then give us a call if it describes anybody you know. (via The Morning News)

Lauds: While I agree with Anne Midgette and Jackie Fuchs about the Teen Spirit of grand opera, I’m afraid that they’re overlooking one important detail about teen life. 

Prime: James Surowiecki takes a look at the Argentinian coin shortage (who knew?) and makes a connection with financial problems in the United States: it’s what puts the “con” in “economy.” 

Tierce: Tony Marshall’s defense strategy continues to bewilder me. Unless, that is, a case is being built (without the defendant’s knowledge, to be sure) to cut Charlene loose.

Sext: I couldn’t make up my mind about this story, until I mooted it by saying: Improv Everywhere got the right couple.

Nones: In a very sensible first step toward restoring sanity after the Cold War (yes! it’s really over!), the Organization of American States voted today to re-admit Cuba.

Vespers: For maximum effect, you must read Elizabeth Benedict’s review of Christopher Buckley’s Losing Mom and Pup all the way to the end:  The Not So Discreet Charm of the Haute Goyim.

Compline: Although I have no idea of the provenance of this YouTube clip of retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong (incontournable!), I can vouch that it is indeed the bishop. Although this saint of liberal Christendom never mentions Augustine’s name, he drives stakes through core Augustinian inventions.

Bon weekend à tous!


Weekend Open Thread:

Saturday, May 30th, 2009


Last Week at Portico: Something of a Noël Coward entry, this, as you will see. ¶ Our Memorial Day weekend was bracketed by two evenings on Broadway, in theatres right round the corner from one another. Blithe Spirit was a must-see, because of its cast, which included Angela Lansbury, Rupert Everett, Deborah Rush, and an actress whom I’ve been trying to see for years, Jayne Atkinson (Christine Ebersole is great, too). God of Carnage was also a must-see because of its cast, but the playwright’s name was certainly a draw. The cast was made up of Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden. The accidental Tony Soprano jokes were a squirt of lemon juice on a great dish. Has there ever been anything like the profusion of great actors on Broadway?

¶ This week’s movie is Easy Virtue, an interesting and not heavyhanded adaptation of a play that Coward wrote in his twenties. In the Twenties. You have to see it, because Kristin Scott Thomas just about sings. ¶ And, of course, the Book Review review.

Dear Diary:
The Boxer

Thursday, May 28th, 2009


Having seen a woolly mammoth in the mirror over the past couple of days, I was determined, this morning, to visit Willy’s for a haircut and a beard trim. I hustled down and back in time for my lunch appointment with Steve Laico, the man who keeps my sites looking great. (It helped, enormously, that Steve was running late. What he would have seen in the apartment had he walked in at the appointed hour!) I listened to the iPod Shuffle while in transit (ie, on foot) — Rufus Wainwright and the Pet Shop Boys. Also on the Shuffle: I Muvrini, a Corsican group that sings in French and Basque, too; and Madredeus, a great Portuguese band that Jean Ruaud turned me on to years ago. Go figure.

I mention all of this music because Willy was playing WCBS FM — a format targeted at people my age or a little younger. People my age or younger who still want to hear “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” that is. I almost asked Willy what happened to the Peruvian music. Willy comes from Peru, and once, when he was playing an album of palatially schlocky aubades and serenades by Juan Diego Florez, he announced to his customers that only Peruvian music would be played in his shop. I have been wanting to snitch on the relief men who ran the place when he went home for his annual vacation last month: the music that they played was distinctly Brazilian. Today, though, I wanted to ask for the Peruvian. Anything but a Memory Lane that I stayed far away from. But I kept quiet.

The next thing I knew, the radio was playing “The Boxer,” a song that everybody my age or a little younger knows, by Simon & Garfunkel. The interesting thing is, I didn’t know that the song was called “The Boxer” until today. I realized, sitting there listening, that I have never owned a Simon & Garfunkel album — not so much as a 45. I didn’t dislike Simon & Garfunkel; it wasn’t that. But something made me hold back from declaring allegiance to the duo — which is what buying an album amounted to back in the Sixties. The music was absolutely inescapable, which is how I came to know “The Boxer” so well without knowing that it was called “The Boxer.”

The announcer at WCBS FM reminisced about the night in 1975 when Paul Simon was the host of SNL, and the producers surprised him by producing Art Garfunkel, with whom he was not on the best of terms. They greeted one another awkwardly and sang — “The Boxer.” Paul Simon would go on to have a vibrant solo career: I have several of his CDs from the Eighties, and if I don’t listen to them very much now it’s because they remind me too strongly of the second biggest mistake in my life, which I made round about when they were new. I believe that Art Garfunkel had an afterglow career of sorts, but when I think of him alone I remember a heartbreaking story that was told to us by a friend.

The heartbreaking part is that our friend had no idea how heartbreaking her story was. Flying across the Pacific in first class, she struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to her. One thing led to another, and soon he was outlining the details of his comeback concert tour. He, too, was the less famous name in a very well-known duo — trust me; you’d recognize the name if you’re over forty — but what hit us, when our friend recounted the story, was that she had no idea who he was. Not a pop fan by any means whatsoever (I wash Cindi Lauper’s laundry by comparison), she had never heard of X & Y. So here is this once-famous name, desperate to make a comeback, full of hope and needing a bit of wind in his sails, and the passenger next whom he’s fated to pass the hours between here and Narita is the one person in his demographic (out of — what? — twenty five?) who has never even heard of him. Encouraging, eh?

Kathleen has a very funny story about Art Garfunkel, but we can’t tell it yet. We’d have to shoot you. The funny part isn’t the Art-Garfunkel part but the what-Kathleen-did-with-it part. In a word, she made everybody at Willy’s laugh. Not my Willy’s; her Willy’s. “If you know what I mean by that.”

Daily Office:

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009


Matins: The two items have little overtly in common, and yet they seem related (if “opposed”): President Obama has settled on Second Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the Supreme Court nominee to take David Souter’s place, and Prop 8 was upheld by the California Supreme Court.

Lauds: This week’s New Yorker cover was created on an iPhone. Jorge Colombo (published in the magazine since 1994), drew it with Brushes. (via  Emdashes)

Prime: John Lanchester’s review of three current whahappen? books about the “economic downturn” musn’t be missed.

Tierce: In the Marshall trial, Mrs Astor’s last white-shoe lawyer, Henry Christensen, takes the stand. Meanwhile, defendant Tony Marshall is asking $17 million less for his late mother’s Park Avenue apartment.

Sext: Oh, no! “Texting May Be Taking a Toll on Teenagers.”

Nones: Is the Sri Lankan civil war really over? Whether it is or not, Christopher Hitchens (at Slate) has the piece that you want to read. (via reddit)

Vespers: Very different (but equally fond) appreciations of John Updike, by Julian Barnes and Alex Beam.

Compline: Alan Beattie writes about Argentina’s failure to become a great power, at FT. (via  The Morning News)


Gotham Note:
St Guilhem

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

© Jean Ruaud 2009

The other day, I wrote about not publishing a photograph until I obtained the permission of a friend to do so. I did get the permission, but by then I’d decided (with a lot of help from Kathleen) not to run the photo, but to keep it as a purely personal souvenir of a great evening. Now I discover a photograph taken  by the very man from whom I sought that permission — but I’m not thinking twice about stealing it for The Daily Blague. If Jean Ruaud asks me to take this picture down, I shall, but I hope that he won’t.

I’ve been visiting the Cloisters for over forty years, and this space, taken from the abbey at St-Guilhem-le-Désert in what used to be called Aquitaine, is more lovable every time I see it. Never mind why right now. The thing to know is that, when you visit the reconstruction, your idea of the height of the space is fixed at a meter or so above the capitals, because that’s where the architecture stops. As a great photographer, though, Jean saw light, not architecture, and the result is stupendous. I won’t rest until the Museum buys this picture from him!

(All right; it’s an idle boast — but I still mean it.)

Daily Office:

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009


Matins: As a thoughtful Memorial Day present, tenants of a building at Third Avenue and 92nd Street were evacuated after an unexplained bomblet went off at Starbucks.

Lauds: Philip Mould describes his first moments alone with a Gainsborough that he bought at eBay for less than $200: when the white spirit didn’t work, he applied acetone, and the overpainting “dissolved like lard.” Don’t try this at home — but don’t miss reading it, either.

Prime: A short list of healthy banks, at The Economist. (Names below the jump.)

Tierce: While we wait for the Marshall trial to heat up, Ruth Padel provides a sleazotic aside: she tipped off the press about Derek Walcott’s Harvard problems, but she did nothing wrong. Sez she. Update: She resigns!

Sext: Hey, yesterday was a holiday; why not take it easy this afternoon as well. Wallow in Schadenfreude as the Telegraph telegraphs all those naughty British MP expenses.

Nones: Scientology, a hit with certain Hollywood movie stars (who get rather special treatment), is regarded rather more skeptically in Europe. In France, seven leading members of the organization are on trial for fraud.

Vespers: John Self reviews James Lasdun’s collection, It’s Beginning to Hurt, at Asylum.

Compline: At Olivia Judson’s Times blog, The Wild Side, Steven Strogatz explains why the United States does not contain two cities the size of New York. (via Infrastructurist(more…)

Weekend Open Thread:
The Lordly Hudson

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

The lordly Hudson, photographed by Jean Ruaud, 19 May 2009.

Last Week at Portico: In spite of spending a great part of the week out and about with Jean Ruaud, I got a great deal done. Well, I took care of le minimum: the Book Review review, natch; Ramin Bahrani’s Goodbye Solo; and, most important of all, a page — a preliminary page — on Vestal McIntyre’s magnificent first novel, Lake Overturn

On the dust jacket, Kate Christensen compares the novel to Middlemarch, and she is not wrong to do so. Lake Overturn is also a book written, as Virginia Woolf put it, for grown-up people. But its twelve year-old ensemble lead, Enrique Cortez, may be the first gay boy in literature to give Tom Sawyer a run.

Daily Office:

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009


Matins: GOOD announces the winner of its Livable Streets Contest. (All the contestants are here.)

Lauds: The sketch blog of Jillian Tamaki, the artist whose work graced the cover of this week’s Book Review. (via The Best Part)

Prime: Michael Lewis revisits Warren Buffett. (via The Awl)

Tierce: No poop on the poop: testimony about dog droppings on Brooke Astor’s dining room floor was ruled inadmissable yesterday. Justice Bartley: “It would seem to me the transient conditions of the apartment – I would include in that dog feces – would be a problem of the staff.”

Sext: This faux Wes Anderson trailer is an elegant little satire, more loving than harsh, of the filmmaker’s foibles.

Nones: The digital universe, like the “real” one, is expanding at speed. Continue reading for a delicious factoid.

Vespers: John Self writes about White Noise, a book that I’d always felt guilty about not reading until I finally gave it away unread.

Compline: Caleb Cage writes about the future of warfare (“RMA“) at The Rumpus.


Weekend Open Thread:
Federal Reserve

Saturday, May 16th, 2009


Last Week at Portico: This week was crazy. I never even found the time to write up a Morning Read — that’s a first (and, I hope, a last). I still owe a few words on Salman Rushdie’s New Yorker story. And that’s just for here! For Portico, I managed to put up a few words on the gruesomely funny Julia, starring Tilda Swinton, cram recollections of three completely different musical events (Denk/Perlman/Graham) onto one page, and — I can’t really believe it — the Book Review review.

Daily Office:

Thursday, May 14th, 2009


Matins: Here’s a story that stinks. Costco has been given permission to disturb East Harlem with tractor-trailers making wee-hour stock deliveries. But Costco won’t accept food stamps, which sustain thousands of neighboring households. Jim Dwyer reports.

Lauds: Move over, origami masters: Look what Simon Schubert can do  by creasing paper gently. (via Snarkmarket)

Prime: Criticism or curation? A misunderstanding between Tim Abrahams, of Blueprint (a print magazine with Web site) and Things Magazine (online only) yields a rich discussion, or at any rate a nice piece by Mr Abrahams and two just-as-nice responses by Things, with some good comments along the way.

Tierce: Joanna Molloy, at the Daily News, takes a breath and asks, “When did the Brooke Astor trial become all about Charlene Marshall?

Sext: Movies you won’t have to think about seeing this weekend, or any weekend. (Did I just jinx it?) Romatic comedy pitches involving gay vampires and crossbows, at McSweeney’s.

Nones: In 1975, Professor Karel Zlabek proposed linking Bohemia, via a tunnel, to the Adriatic. That’s over four hundred kilometers, maybe not so much in American terms (but), beneath the soil of two other sovereignties, one of which, Austria, was not a member of the Warsaw Pact.

Vespers: What, we ask ourself, is the Derek Walcott kerfuffle really about? An inappropriate sexual advance? Or even more inappropriate revenge when the advance was rebuffed?

Compline: Not to be confused with the foregoing: Vanity Fair gentleman curmudgeon James Wolcott looks back fondly on Manhattan in the Seventies.

Bon weekend à tous!


Daily Office:

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009


Matins: A word from venture capitalist Peter Rip:

Corporate America, its public boards, and now, the United States government would be well served to take a few pages on governance from America’s venture capital-backed companies.

Lauds: Queen Nefertiti’s bust a fake? What fun! I love fakes! (via Arts Journal)

Prime: Now I know what to get for my grandchildren (when & if): littleBits. “PLUS magnets are FUN.” (via

Tierce: More excluded testimony at the Marshall Trial yesterday — and everybody but the jury heard proposed testimony by the late Mrs Astor’s social secretary. The Post, the Daily News.

Sext: Last night, I asked about the “backlash” to Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker piece about the full-court press. Voilà! Tom Scocca buttonholes Choire Sicha at The Awl. (via Brainiac)

Nones: Mark Landler reads the tea-leaves of Iran’s release of Roxana Saberi (who by the way is gawjus!): Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reverses course to improve his re-election bid.

Vespers: Rebecca Dalzell bids adieu to the Times’s City section, soon to be cut from the Sunday paper.

Compline: Built on a former French military base (hence its having been named after Louis XIV’s fortress engineer), the Freiburg suburb of Vauban could not have accommodated civilian auto traffic anyway. You are allowed to own a car if you live in the upscale development, but you can’t park it at your house.


Miniature Note:
East End

Monday, May 4th, 2009


Al, I want to say; Al, you’re great, we all love you; now will you please get out of the picture? I had dreamed of one of those details from an old Skira art book, where a bit of Netherlandish cheek and a warty nose loom to the right of an exquisite pavilion of malachite and marble that you never would have noticed. The picture from which the detail has been cropped is called something like Adoration with Chancellor Rolin.

But this is New York, and romance is just a name on a language department.

Mr Gordon is shown at a north-facing window in his apartment, which, as I’ve known for decades, was at 10 Gracie Square — that last block of East 84th Street between East End Avenue and the East River. How did I know? Did my father tell me that? My father thought the world of Al Gordon. Everybody did. Anybody who didn’t must have thrown himself off a building in 1929.

The treetops are rooted in Carl Schurz Park. Regular readers will have seen them countless times.

To the left of Mr Gordon’s jesting head is 120 East End Avenue. This very handsome building, which I used to dream of living in someday, was built by Vincent Astor, who developed several blocks of luxury flats in the neighborhood back in the Twenties, when Germantown was becoming Yorkville. This is where Brooke Astor lived when Mr Astor was still alive. She had already lived nearby, at 1 Gracie Square, with her second husband, Mr Marshall. (The same Mr Marshall who was not-repeat-not the father of celebrity defendant Tony Marshall, Kuser.) It seems positively bohemian of Mrs Astor to have strayed so far from Fifth and Park Avenues, but then it wasn’t her choice. She parked herself on Park when she finally had her druthers.

The building at the right-hand edge of the photograph is 170 East End Avenue, and it is no longer under construction. I don’t think that many people live there, but the external elevators were dismantled a while ago, not long before I saw a doorman-type person help a lady with two shopping bags get out of a taxi.

170 stands on the site of the former Doctors’ Hospital, which was famous, before its absorption into the Beth Israel galaxy, as a place to go and dry out. Or to recover from the vapors. In its Beth Israel days, Quintana Roo Dunne was hospitalized there with the dread infection that would later kill her. It was after a visit to her bedside that her father, John Gregory Dunne, collapsed and died in his apartment overlooking St James the Ugly

(This is nothing if not a small town.)

For about a year, round about the time that this photograph was taken of Al Gordon at home, construction at 170 East End Avenue stalled. Nothing happened for a very long time. I like to tell people now that the builders had “financing problems.” In fact I have no idea whatsoever of what it was that stopped the work. For all I know, a Viking burial mound was uncovered in the basement, requiring months of tedious dusting with the kind of brushes that used to be attached to those circular typewriter erasers. But when I say, “they had financing problems,” my interlocutors nod sagely, as if I’d just come from the very bank.  

One likes to think that Al Gordon knew.

Weekend Update (Friday Edition):

Friday, May 1st, 2009


I spent most of a soggy afternoon in Brooklyn — without leaving the blue room of my apartment. After the movie (The Limits of Control) and lunch (with Ms NOLA, at the Knickerbocker), Quatorze and I headed uptown to Yorkville. Q was nice enough to hang a couple of pictures, something that it has become very difficult for me to do, given my rigid neck. Even when my neck was as supple as anybody’s, though, I never hung pictures as quickly and neatly as Quatorze.

When the work was done and much admired, I ought to have thanked my friend and sent him on his way, because I had this page to write, among other sitely tasks, not to mention a concert to attend. But it was much more interesting to sink into my chair with a cup of tea and listen to Quatorze’s stories of boyhood in Sunset Park — in the parish of St Catherine of Alexandria, at any rate. One or two of the stories I had heard before, but from other angles, as it were, and other connections. It occurred to me that Quatorze really ought to be writing his stories down. They’re very funny, but they’re also very local. The Brooklyn that he remembers is long gone, and I hope that he’ll take steps to assure that it doesn’t vanish altogether.

When the conversation fell to details about the periphery of Prospect Park, there was only one thing to do: refer to Google Maps. I didn’t know that Quatorze had never spent any time with Google Maps — that he didn’t even know it existed. Hours later, he left the apartment somewhere between fandom and addiction.

Given the weather, and Kathleen’s exhaustion, I made the decision, at about seven, to skip tonight’s chamber recital at the Museum. I regret having to do so, I did have to do so. I might have gone by myself, but the work that hadn’t been done while Quatorze and I searched for the Palais de la Lanterne would have distracted me from the music.

Does anyone know of a blog that follows the Marshall Trial? Times coverage (by John Eligon and James Barron) has been pretty exciting. The opening arguments were spicy: the prosecution all but fingered Charlene Marshall, the defendant’s younger wife (and I am convinced that this case is all about cherchez la Charlene), while the defense proposed that the late Mrs Astor was niggardly about donating her own money to charity — not a tack that I’d have recommended taking. Now, novelist and attorney Louis Auchincloss, a good-enough friend of the late doyenne, takes the stand to make the following flabbergasting but correct assertion:

Mr. Auchincloss said Mrs. Astor could not have been capable of understanding details of a will “if she did not know me.”

The Week at Portico: Those few paragraphs about Waiting for Godot that I mentioned last night may be read here. And of course there’s the Book Review review.

Daily Office:

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009


Matins: The only thing that’s missing from this Observer story about a houseguest from hell is the atmosphere that Quatorze would exhale if he were reading it.

Lauds: Here’s a story that ought to be curdling my innards, but the innards in question were curdled so long ago that there’s nothing left. The Times may sell WQXR, according to the kind of rumors that have been panning out lately.

Prime: Even though I have NO ROOM, I must confess to being beguiled by Mike Johnston’s Online Photographer entry about starting a camera collection.

Tierce: Olympia Snowe’s envoi to Arlen Specter manages to make Ronald Reagan, of all people, sound like a moderate Republican. The Pennsylvania senator’s defection to the Democrats may also lubricate his former party’s easing-up on opposition to same-sex marriage.

Sext: And, speaking of marriage, The Morning News assembles a Panel of Experts, comprising a handful of youngsters who are engaged to be married, “The Rules of Engagement.”

Nones: First, the good news: things are looking up (a little) in Myanmar, a nation so devastated by Cyclone Nargis, last year, that its repressive junta loosened up a bit.

Vespers: Finally: a book by Colson Whitehead that I’d like to read. None of that postmodern bricolage, just a straightforward summer novel: Sag Harbor. Marie Mockett inverviews the author at Maud Newton.

Compline: One of the most egotistical, testosterone-driven, and commercially senseless mergers in corporate history is about to be undone, as TimeWarner and America Online approach the dissolution of their relationship.


Daily Office:

Thursday, April 16th, 2009


Matins: At the risk of sounding impetuous: my response to the Times‘s account of Archbishop Dolan’s first news conference is a happy smile. His way of reminding reporters that the Church’s position on same-sex marriage is “clear” suggests that he doesn’t care what it is.

Lauds: Go ahead, it’s Thursday: kill the morning by feasting your eyes on jacket art at the Book Cover Archive. (via Arts Journal)

Prime: A touch of White Mischief for the weekend: Lady Idina Sackville, subject of a forthcoming biography by one of her great-granddaughters: The Bolter.

Tierce: The nation’s second-largest mall operator, General Growth Properties, has filed for bankruptcy. As usual, the culprit was good-times leverage that opened up an abyss.

Sext: Pesky rodents driving you crazy? Do what the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department plans to do: blow the varmints to kingdom come by igniting a “calibrated mixture of oxygen and propane” in their burrows. It’s “humane,” they say. Watch for yourself!

Nones: It’s very difficult not to have problems with the religion called “Islam” after the remarks of a Shiite madrasa leader in Kabul, commenting on protests by Afghan women against a repressive new “home life” law.

Vespers: Patrick Kurp reflects on the difference between a public library and a university library.

Compline: How George Snyder, one of the most inquisitively literate men I know, manages to get from day to day on Planet Arrakis in Los Angeles is quite beyond me. But he does; and, as Irene Dunne put it, “he’s pretty cute about it, too.”

Bon weekend à tous!