(Thursday: I can put one foot after the other, partially because of thoughtful columns by Nicholas Kristof and Gail Collins, and also because of the poem from Altenir Silva, writer friend from Rio:
“I want to dedicate this poem written by the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade (October 31, 1902 – August 17, 1987). Here in Brazil, we always read it, when we are looking for better days. Best – Altenir.”)
What Now, José?
By Carlos Drummond de Andrade
The party’s over,
the lights are off,
the crowd’s gone,
the night’s gone cold,
what now, José?
what now, you?
You without a name,
who mocks the others,
you who write poetry
who love, protest?
what now, José?
You have no wife,
you have no speech
you have no affection,
you can’t drink,
you can’t smoke,
you can’t even spit,
the night’s gone cold,
the day didn’t come,
the tram didn’t come,
laughter didn’t come
utopia didn’t come
and everything ended
and everything fled
and everything rotted
what now, José?
What now, José?
Your sweet words,
your instance of fever,
your feasting and fasting,
your gold mine,
your glass suit,
your hate – what now?
Key in hand
you want to open the door,
but no door exists;
you want to die in the sea,
but the sea has dried;
you want to go to Minas
but Minas is no longer there.
José, what now?
If you screamed,
if you moaned,
if you played
a Viennese waltz,
if you slept,
if you tired,
if you died…
But you don’t die,
you’re stubborn, José!
Alone in the dark
like a wild animal,
without a naked wall
to lean against,
without a black horse
that flees galloping,
you march, José!
José, where to?
* * *
(Wednesday: All right, Joey Nichols is elected. I have nothing coherent to say as of Wednesday but may bounce back soon. Meantime, all comments, suggestions, verbal hugs, second-guesses or flat-out told-you-sos are welcome in Comments. I'm turning on classical music. GV.)
Monday: I have never watched any reality show, intentionally, but one time I accidentally clicked on somebody named Simon, who was cruelly dissecting a guest.
“What a horrible person,” I thought, pushing the clicker. “Who would let him into their house?”
Of course, I never watched Trump on his show because almost everybody in New York knew him as a dolt and a poseur, a punch line. He was Joey Nichols to our collective Alvy Singer.
Say it together: “What an asshole.” We knew.
Now it turns out that a significant chunk of the country does not know, cannot process information about Trump’s business dealings, is not offended by his ugly boasting about sexual misconduct.
The country, founded by patriots and enlightened leaders, has been dumbed down by the reality-show persona.
At the same time, people stopped reading newspapers. They cannot tell the difference between news-gatherers and the comedians on the tube. Grown people repeat stuff that has been proven false.
Go into a school sometime and talk about issues on the front page (or web site) of the Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian. Blank looks. Trump is putting journalists in pens and mocking them.
As he rolled over the cardboard Maginot Line of Republican challengers, Trump unleashed a barrage of incomplete sentences, incomplete thoughts, utter untruths, in the sing-song voice of an undeveloped human being.
In a sing-song voice. Trust me, I’m telling you, in a sing-song voice.
I have developed earworm, the condition when some piece of music is repeated so often that it bores its way into the eardrum, and stays there, repeating itself.
It keeps repeating itself, believe me, in a sing-song voice.
Other people are reporting earworm from this endless election. In the last catatonic days, I have been flopping in front of the tube like a beached whale, hoping that Steve Kornacki and Joy Reid on MSNBC, or maybe John King on CNN, will point at the state that confirms it is almost over.
I’ve heard this condition described as “a great national nightmare” or a “societal nervous breakdown.”
On Sunday evening, I made a break for it. I went upstairs and put chamber music on the CD player and read a new book I discovered in the library: “The Face of Britain: A History of the Nation Through Its Portraits” by Simon Schama – great stuff about Winston Churchill and Henry VIII and John and Yoko and the artists who tried to represent them.
For a few hours, the earworm went away.
Joseph Cornell was already well known for his collages in small boxes during the mid-50’s when I was in high school.
Our busy road (188th St.) dead-ends into Utopia Parkway just south of Cornell’s home, maybe three miles from my childhood home, but I don’t remember my cultured friends and teachers ever mentioning him.
The Jamaica High School paper interviewed famous New York people and probably could have gained an interview with this introverted soul but, like me, the editors had not discovered him.
I am thinking about Cornell because my daughter Laura just took his biography – “Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell,” by Deborah Solomon -- out of the library. It’s been around since 1997 yet it took me this long to read about this artist who lived with his widowed mother and his younger brother who was limited by cerebral palsy.
Cornell is stereotyped as the hermit who stayed home on Utopia Parkway, caring for his mother and brother, and when the world quieted down at night he would snip others’ work and blend them with memorabilia of France, or incongruous mundane objects to create new form.
I once met Louise Nevelson at a party. She made us roar by describing how she bellied into a dumpster to retrieve some artifact she could use in her sculpture. Cornell was no less driven.
Somehow, he managed to work at menial jobs in the city, to support his family, while haunting the art galleries and bookstores at lunch hour and then take the train back to Flushing. People called him a a recluse but really he was a Zelig of an Outer Borough who knew Dali and Duchamp and de Kooning. Tony Curtis came to his house in a limo!
Cornell sought out ballerinas and actresses, shopgirls and students. Audrey Hepburn sent back one of his boxes. Susan Sontag enjoyed his company. His work celebrates sensuality, small hotels in Paris, birds, mystery, beautiful women. He died in 1972 at the age of 69. The author informs us that his short, intense crushes were "platonic."
I liked Cornell even better when I read that he loved the haunting music of Erik Satie, who lived in a squalid little flat in the outback of Paris. Cornell's boxes and Satie's compositions are a perfect fit.
I have loved Cornell's work since my wife, an artist, introduced me to museums and galleries. Maybe I am particularly affected because I grew up in Queens, in a narrow house much like Cornell's. Next door, a few feet away, two brothers, waiters named Rocco and Luigi, practiced the scales and the arias on summer afternoons with the windows open, before going to work.
In Queens, we knew that “it” was just a subway ride away. And all that time, maybe three miles up the road, Joseph Cornell was caring for his family and making his boxes.
This very young baseball season has been so much fun, just to have the sport back but obviously for the 10-3 record through Sunday.
Then Jerry Blevins received a fractured arm and Travis d'Arnaud a fractured hand within minutes of each other as the Mets beat the Marlins.
Since the first weird days of 1962, Mets fans have known that following this team demands great mood shifts. But this is ridiculous, after promising the Higher Power, just get me through this nuclear winter of Little Anthony and the No-Names and let me watch Juan Lagares chase fly balls. .
Baseball is liberation from the yammering of cable news. .
It’s sticking up for Bartolo Colon’s right to start opening day and watching him win his first three starts – and driving in runs in two consecutive games – and fielding his position, for goodness’ sakes.
I went to opening day at New Shea, hordes of macho males (and females, too), whacked on alcohol or testosterone or who knows what, conducting the rites of spring that reminded me of Brueghel and Bosch, collaborating on their epic St. Patrick’s Day in the Lower Depths of Penn Station.
Nobody watched the game.
Back home, games are faster, so much faster so that you cannot click away and watch a snippet of a movie you never knew existed. Now, when you click back, there is already an out and a runner on first.
Congratulations, baseball, for making those lugs stay in the batter’s box.
The Mets and the Other Team in Town have opened with division rivals. This is a wonderful thing because the games have extra value for post-season possibilities, but more immediately because they bring home the familiar faces, the worthy oppositions.
In the Madoff Era, the Mets have been the soft underbelly of the National League. Now they are going through the first two weeks – Bryce Harper and the Nationals, Andrelton Simmons and the Braves, Chase Utley and the Phillies, Giancarlo Stanton and the Marlins.
But what is Ryan Howard doing lurking in the Phillies’ dugout? One thing I hate about contemporary big-biz baseball: the looming salary dump, further devaluing gallant players who got a bit old or a bit hurt.
After two weeks, the timid, repressed optimist dares to whisper, “Wait…those teams aren’t that great right now.” Spring. Early spring. False spring. Who knows?
Out-of-town box scores vanish from the printed page. You could spend an entire breakfast or commute checking the box scores. Now you have to read the front page. Yikes.
But at least there is the two-week glory of watching Soft Hands Lucas Duda hitting to the left side, playing grounders like a big cat. Sandy Alderson was right. This guy is no oaf.
Then again, how could the Mets send down Eric Campbell and open the season with a four-player bench? Campbell came back swinging hard -- and his throws from third base are special, too. Now the Mets have to replace two players who have been so vital in these early days.
Meanwhile, on the team from another borough, Alex Rodriguez, the man we love to hate, is keeping the Anonymous Yankees almost respectable. Maybe he will shame the owners into paying him his bonus.
Pay-Rod, the working man’s hero. Who woulda thought?
We recently visited friends for a lovely dinner and conversa-tion. The highlight just might have been seeing a new cycle of work by our hostess, Rosa Silverman.
The nice thing about having a web site is being able to display art, just because.
A giant foosball table for 11 players per side? Horses suspended in mid-air? Picasso in the sky with sandals? A giant tombstone cataloguing England’s soccer losses (no victories whatsoever)?
Maurizio Cattelan insists he is retiring, not that I believe him for a moment. But Sig. Cattelan certainly gives new meaning to the dreaded R-word.
The Guggenheim Museum held a celebration of voluntary endings on Saturday night. The ramparts of the Frank Lloyd Wright building were jammed on the final weekend for the show – Sig. Cattelan’s letting it all hang out, so to speak.
Just about his entire output of 51 years on this earth was suspended from the ceiling.
I have seen many athletes take their leave of the arena, rarely on their own. When I was as young as the players, some of my friends on the Yankees would talk in hushed tones about a player who had been cut from the team.
“Hey, did you hear about so-and-so? He died.”
A bunch of people from various disciplines were asked by the Guggenheim to illustrate voluntary retirement.
In men’s sports, retirement is often connected to that intimate item of sporting equipment known as the athletic supporter, or jock, which protects what any male athlete would say are his most treasured possessions.
When a player retires, I reminded the audience, he is said to “hang up his jock.”
Not being much of an athlete myself, I wanted to know if athletes actually “hang it up.”
I contacted some of my athlete friends from my days at Hofstra College on Long Island. Stephen Dunn, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2001, was a fine player on the basketball varsity that had a 23-1 record in 1959-60. Stephen was known as Radar for his long-range accuracy, and later played in a weekend professional league.
When I asked Stephen about the end of his active basketball career, he wrote to me. (Yes, that Pulitzer-prize poet uses email.)
“The jock strap, in this regard, has a kind of moral, uplifting quality to it,” Stephen wrote. “When I hung mine up it was a day of sadness, but only for me.” He added that only his wife noticed his “retirement” – and she did not think it was a big deal at all.
Another friend from the old days, Lou DiBlasi, went on to be a high-school coach and has written a book about the legendary Tiny Twenty team of 1956. He also played on the undefeated Hofstra team in 1959.
After their final victory, they held what he described as a “hang ‘em up ceremony,” which involved pounding some nails into a board, writing the names of the seniors, and hanging up their jocks, accompanied by, I am assuming, copious amounts of beer.
The captain of that team was in the hospital for that final game, because of an appendectomy. They infiltrated the hospital with the beer and the board, and hung up his jock, too.
At the Guggenheim, I gave what I hope was a brief talk on the history of retiring athletes’ numbers – Lou Gehrig’s No. 4 on July 4, 1939 (the day I was born; I remember the hubbub quite well.) The Yankees will soon run out of single-digit numbers after they retire Torre 6 and Jeter 2.
Other speakers talked about forms of voluntary change – one man had given up the priesthood; a woman talked about contraception; a psychiatrist talked about endings in her field; a man did a spin on jarring black standup comedy that I loved; and somebody else talked about what I guess you could say is the ultimate form of voluntary retirement – suicide notes, themselves an art form.
By contrast, “hanging it up” seems delightfully benign.
We didn’t stay for the scheduled Courtney Love finale around midnight. As I left, I could see the young and the hip congregating underneath Maurizio Cattelan’s mock animal skeletons and newspaper headlines about the Brigati Rossi and busty nude sculptures. I’ll believe the retirement when I see it.
Meantime: Bravissimo, Ingeniere.
For some delightful reason, I have been asked to give a brief sporting flavor to the seven-hour retirement ceremony of sculptor Maurizio Cattelan at the Guggenheim Museum on Jan. 21. Cattelan is officially hanging ‘em up by suspending much of his artwork from the ceiling of the Guggenheim. That should be a trip.
As I imagined the farewell for a sculptor, I could not help but think about two sporting ceremonies I attended – both, bizarrely, on Sept. 28.
The one on Sept. 28, 1947 was my first time in Yankee Stadium. I was 8, and it was the last game of the season, and the Yankees were honoring Babe Ruth, who was dying of throat cancer. (The Babe, in his outsize way, had three farewells – one that summer, the other next spring, before he died on Aug. 16, 1948. This was the middle one.)
I can remember his camel hair coat and his damaged voice echoing around the Stadium’s rudimentary speaker system. The Stadium’s autumnal shadows enforced the gloomy tone, first set for Lou Gehrig in 1939, of dozens, nay, hundreds, of Yankee ceremonies, many of them honoring pinstriped heroes who often seem to die young. Those spectral sounds still seem to echo in the newest version of the Stadium – even though it’s across the street.
A more upbeat ceremony took place on Sept. 28, 1982, at the farewell game for Carlos Alberto, a stylish defender from Brazil, who had finished his career with the Cosmos. They brought up his old team, Flamengo from Rio, in its red and black uniforms, and he played a half for each team, the way soccer farewells are done.
I was new to the sport in 1982, but could not miss the love and respect the players had for Carlos Alberto, and for the game itself. As Carlos Alberto took a long tour around Giants Stadium, waving and shaking hands with the fans, the new-age speakers played Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better.” Every time I hear that song, I think of smooth old Carlos Alberto.
Now, the rankest outsider in that world, I will witness the addio to Maurizio Cattelan. With his diverse works dangling from the beams, the farewell at the Guggenheim is not likely to be anything like the one for the Babe or Carlos Alberto. I’ll furnish a report.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.