From Greece With Love

A few years ago I spent quite a bit of time in Europe. Not alone: with many other people. And I saw the insides of theatres, for the most part. But there was also a fair bit of Europe in there as well. It was a good time for writing: I filled up a moleskin and a half with journal entries on that trip, and I briefly entertained the thought of cleaning some up and compiling them. I never made it to the end of that project, of course. Because who cares about crappy journal entries?

Me, mostly. Maybe you’d also care to see some; I don’t know. I came across a few I’d written in Greece sitting on a hard drive that I probably typed up a couple of years ago. Maybe gave them a new coat of paint, at one point. Probably later in 2010. Still, there isn’t much embellishing going on in there. In fact, they’re almost devastatingly general. A little sentimental.

When I read them again I very much remembered how it felt to see Greece for the first time but not having the luxury to linger, what with being ceaselessly borne forward by the momentum of the road.

Weirdly framed picture of the Porch of the Caryatids at the Acropolis. Didn't actually go during this part of the trip, but I don't have any pictures that correspond with the journal entries because my camera was broken those days. Yes, I know. You're terribly disappointed.

Weirdly framed picture of the Porch of the Caryatids at the Acropolis. Didn’t actually go during this part of the trip, but I don’t have any pictures that correspond with the journal entries because my camera was broken those days. Yes, I know. You’re terribly disappointed.

5.18.10

There lies an uncommon pleasure in watching the Ionian Sea speed by in a rush of water, plowed aside by our boat.  Our wake trawls hugely, as if someone were dragging an island through the waves.

Right now I’m watching a boy practically heave himself over the side of the ship to get a better glimpse of the sea.  He twists himself impressively in an effort to be both on the boat and in the water, his hair whipping in the wind of our passage.

His friends call him back, and I’m half tempted to take his place. There is nothing wrong with being lost at sea. The ocean is a study in contrast, and watching the dance of gleaming sunlight glazing each glassy, roiling crest brings a tremulous feeling to my chest. I feel as if I were trying to catch a soap bubble on my finger tips, and not have it burst, dispersing that magical ratio of tension and liquid into meaningless space. But the sea as a whole is a ponderous thing: shifting between turquoise, lapis, and and a murky green. Look hard and you’ll understand that beneath the surface there are well and truly fathoms.

Near the end of the deck, a French hornist plays “Amazing Grace.” The song is wrong for the scene. It’s not the melody that comes leaping out of the water, as joyfully as a dolphin, nor is it the groan of the engine, which sounds like a hundred slaves rowing below deck.

But still, the roundness of the horn lays itself thick, enveloping us as we watch the sun dip its warm rays into the sea. The scene is tastelessly majestic: a study in the contrast of dark clouds against violently saturated colors. At that moment, the sun could very well have been a fiery disc drawn along by the chariot of a young god, ready to make its journey under the ocean of the world. There’s inspiration in the history of it; in the unchanging nature of the feat.  Nothing seems irrevocable about this moment. If someone made a mad leap overboard I would expect him to pop up out of the water again, laughing for the sport of his fall.

Every hope, every blessed optimism, is spread out before me like wings of red from behind a dark sunset.  An illusion of an evening goes by in bold yellow and tangerine, bursting out from the blackness hanging over the horizon.  The colors fade, and slowly we make our way below deck, hearts creaking from the magic.

On that ship, and in the small hours, I dream of the sun.

5.19.10

Sunrise.  The philhellenic part of me may have been waiting its whole existence to watch dawn’s rosy fingers break over the Ionian Sea, but it shall have to remain disappointed for now. The mainland is in the east, and once the sun peeks over its crags everything is suddenly illuminated: from the ancient rocks and pines, to the modern, boxy buildings lined up along the shore.  It’s a new day, acknowledged by a dotting of fishing boats on the water.

There’s no time to lose in morning. And so it’s off to climb the crags of Ionia, roadside shrines marking the passage and the passing of people on mountain roads. Churches pop suddenly out of the landscape: round little things in the orthodox tradition, accompanied by towns and villages to worship them.

The tarmac becomes more cracked, on the roads down the mountains, and the shrines become fewer.  The morning’s freshness gives way to dust and crumbling brick yards; troupes of feral dogs and signs in both English and Cyrillic that look like they haven’t been replaced since the eighties.

What most captures my attention is an enormous wall of graffiti, which possibly predates my birth. I get the message, I think, even though the only things I understand are the Communist symbols mixed in with the words and painted onto cliff-face by someone with a large, square hand. It’s a dark look into Greece’s tumultuous modern history.

We stop at a gas station with typically outdated English signs. Four Euros will give you a carryout container of potatoes but sorry, he can’t give any change.  The cashier is not used to large bills. The women’s bathroom is a wreck and the small café seems to be inhabited completely by chain-smoking men who regard us silently, a dish of cubed cheese set down before them.

Soon, a youth comes by.  He doesn’t look exactly native. He tries to sell us bootleg videos.  Porn. No one is interested.

I think of the riots we watched on television about a week before we came.  These are hard times.  I wonder what these men speak of, in their low voices, as they chain-smoke and watch us.  Their stares are unreadable, but not angry. Or wary. I don’t know what to make of it.

The café has a selection of packaged ice cream with English names and slogans.  Ridiculous ones. Like “Chocolate Orgy.” There’s a tiresome debate on the merits of fudge over cookie dough, then it’s time to hit the road again.

6.6.10

Greek White

It’s the morning and we think ostensibly of going home.

Everyone longs for home, says Odysseus,

Through the epochs and the ages.

Everyone longs for home—

But I can’t seem to find one in the motion of the world

Or the motion of the waves.

I can only bear in mind the bodies on this windblown deck,

And the gaze of those I’d rather forget.

Every beauty I’ve known is false.

We can only hope in the face of the inevitable.

Odysseus thinks I accuse him.  I can’t tell him I do not.

Greek white, Greek white.  Every one longs for home.

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An Open Letter to Myself

I actually wrote this back in January, I’m pretty sure. But I needed a reminder today.

There is a morning to the way you think.  Even if it’s one that you’d rather not acknowledge for how exposed it looks at high noon.  The world is pitiless: full of sun and harsh against your eyes.

But there is no purpose to your misery.  Your misguided dislike of the universe in general seems justified at first, but then you remember that this is the universe where an old friend was stumbled into you on the train last night: literally falling into your subway car, fresh off the L.  You never knew that he was so close to you.  And his stumble will set off a whole new chain of events in your life.  Then those events will, in turn, branch out and bring to you yet more and more beginnings.    

This universe is the one where you found out that boy you’d written about for pages and pages actually knew your name, which is in itself an astonishing thing.  And in this society you live in, no matter how bad it gets, you at least are allowed a few years to accumulate debt. To get your bearings and think. So use this time, and sit in heated rooms in the winter, and roam the streets every summer, and think about music and sound and other miracles of human consciousness.  Do not be so preoccupied by living that you are unable to see life, for at any moment this could be taken from you, or the Milky Way itself could become lost and ourselves within it—just a speck in the great cosmic firmament.  You, girl, live in an age that is in between that past greatness and whatever it is to come.  There is no better time to be alive.

Hearth

I don't remember what this is called.

A work in progress: one of the last meals Mom ever made. I’d gotten…whatever this is because I thought it looked cool. She thought I was an idiot.

Mom never cooked with measuring cups, or really any tools that told her how much of anything she was using. And diligently, I’ve more or less inherited her style.

My brother-in-law took me grocery shopping on Saturday. We spent 200 USD and the fridge at this apartment was full for the first time I can remember. He seemed astounded by it all but, admittedly, it was at my instigation. This was the way I used to live: shopping happened every couple of weeks and it was for a family of five. A full house, if you will.

I guess I forget that now it’s just the three of us, and we’ve been eating most of our meals outside the home.

Which means I usually eat garbage. While it’s something you think you’re aware of, it struck home again that eating and eating well are such a privilege: food and time are both money.

But I’ve been fortunate enough to have the time lately, and, thanks to my sister’s job, have the purchasing power to buy soybean paste and fresh noodles, fruit and dark greens.

So I’ve been trying to remember what I know (knew?) about cooking. Like I said, I’ve inherited my mother’s style, but I can’t actually remember all that she taught me. And by that I don’t mean just her recipes or any specific dishes, but the things that I learned without her speaking: how her kitchen varied wildly from efficient to scatterbrained; how we used to eat burned meat because she was checking her email and not the stove.

I do wish I remembered more of her recipes. Not really the fancy stuff, but the simple things I sort of vaguely recall from when I was a kid and she’d make dinner for us after coming home from work. She never showed me these things really: there was always time. It wasn’t like either of us were going anywhere.

Strangely, even though I associate most of the cooking with Mom, I think my sister and I learned more specific things from Dad. Mom didn’t suffer fools in her kitchen, but Dad enjoyed teaching us: it meant he didn’t actually have to do any of the foot work. Instead, he could direct us around while we did all the chopping and stirring. That was probably actually the ideal food prep experience for him.

So it’s Dad I remember whenever I make fried rice, following his orders as he (figuratively) stands behind my shoulder and advises me on how much oyster sauce I should use. For Mom it’s more a measure of capturing her spirit. She was an infinitely pragmatic cook: always adapting to circumstance and incorporating new tricks. And even when she found a recipe, she never followed it exactly.

So I’ve been trying to find Mom while I have a fridge full of things to practice on and two or three other people who are forced to eat my results. So far, it’s going well. Most meals have been frankensteined from what I remember and a quick glance online to see what other people are doing. Using this method, I’m proud to report that I have not accidentally perpetrated a poisoning.

I’m sure, at least, that my parents would be proud of that much.

Broome St Bucket List

Broome St. from my window

Broome St. from my window.

The night isn’t quiet out here. I don’t know how I hadn’t noticed that it’s always filled with horns honking or firetrucks racing from the department down the street. Maybe I even only notice now because I’m trying to commit this place to memory. The sounds and sights of it, at least: from the Little Italy sign flashing outside my window to my suitemate’s guests roving in and out of her room.

It’s my last night in the Broome dorm, and I’ve honestly spent more of it goofing off than packing. Chances are this may have been the only time I’ll live in on-campus housing at NYU, which I’m pretty okay with, even though Broome seems like it would be nice to live in during the school year. It’s always amusing to me when on-campus residents post screenshots of the housing system on Facebook from day two or three of assignments when there are one or two or zero rooms left in all of the preferred dorms…and then hundreds of spaces left in Lafayette.

Lafayette dormitory is only about five minutes from here and, as indicated by its popularity, it’s the least-preferred housing. I don’t actually think it’s that different from Broome, but my standards aren’t the same as everyone else’s. For instance, I specifically wanted a place near Chinatown. Because food.

Anyway, J-Bird was at Lafayette last year which meant I visited him there a fair few times, so I’ve been in this area.

I know the stretch going north of here the best, because I often walked straight from Chinatown to spend the night at Laurasaur’s old apartment in the West Village. It’s still kind of strange to me that they’re not in their old homes anymore. That now J-Bird is in Brooklyn and Laurasaur doesn’t have that cramped little space the above the loud wine bar with the scaffolding that was covered in pretty lights.

I’m a big sucker for pretty lights. (Not to be confused with Pretty Lights, which I also like well enough) Today I dragged the usual suspects with me to eat at a restaurant because I’d walked passed it so many nights and noticed that the lights became a beacon on my way home. I used to detour to walk past them, alone on the wet streets when it was so late it was early. Because it’s the little things that make it bearable to live at ground level, and if they happen to be Christmas lights all year ’round: so be it. Especially when they’re so blue they’re almost black—ultraviolet after dark.

Spring and Lafayette

Blue lights at Spring and Lafayette

It helped that the restaurant was actually good, I guess. But I didn’t even care what kind of place it was, really. I just liked the idea of becoming one of the people I so often saw sitting there, outdoors and between the planters. I knew I wanted to do this before I left: just like I wanted to walk into the abandoned caverns that Tribeca becomes late at night, or spend an early morning on the benches of the square off Centre Ave before the sun really even wakes up. It was all on this bucket list I didn’t even realize I had until now, even though I may have been adding to it unconsciously since the first week of my internship.

It was good food but a little bit of a letdown, honestly. I’m not sure what I expected to find there: what kind of fulfillment I could possibly get from sitting among the planters in a dress to match. As if I could visit the idea that the blue lights represented in my mind rather than the place itself, maybe. Which would be quite Gatsby of me, except I’m not actually sure why they’re so significant. They’re probably tied to the past. Everything is when you’re being borne ceaselessly into it.

Whatever it is I know I’m leaving it behind. And it’s not like I’m going far, but I tend to get attached to the places where I sleep, which is weird because I thought I’d spent years perfecting the ways of a nomad: living out of a tiny suitcase at the ends of the earth. But things are different when you carry your home in your skin, I guess. Before I’d left my home with my mother, but I’m going to have to find a way to keep my own bones, now.

And perhaps this is the problem with things: that I attach too much importance to places, like this impermanent dormitory for example. Or like the intangible thing that is Summer which is at once an idea and a beast and a time and a place you can walk upon and taste in the air. Like the blue lights that marked my path, telling me that I was almost home.

I’ve been doing some serious looking outside my window tonight, and I’ve noticed something in the distance. To the right of the Chrysler Building there lies a cluster of red lights: cell phone towers in the distance. They remind me of their brethren that I can see from my sister’s home in New Jersey. I’ve visited those ones before, in a time before time that I usually try to forget. They blink slowly out in the Meadowlands and, by train or by highway, are impossible miss. The benign gods of the red lights, I christened them from the passenger seat of a red mustang. The gods who blink benignly, but watch all the petty things we do.

Tomorrow I’m leaving Broome. Those blue lights won’t guide me home and, as such, have more-or-less lost their function as enchanted objects. And that’s what probably affects us most about leaving a place; it’s because we’re losing the idea of a thing even while knowing the object itself remains.

A Brooklyn Adventure

"Make art?" You've got the right idea, old newspaper bin at a random Bushwick gas station.

“Make art?” You’ve got the right idea, old newspaper bin at a random Bushwick gas station.

I went down to Brooklyn last night to hang with the J-Bird, because I haven’t seen him since the end of the school year when we were both strung out on stress and a myriad of other, less tangible things; he maybe even more than I.

The original plan was to head down to SummerScreen in McCarren Park to maybe watch The Goonies or maybe not watch The Goonies (J-Bird doesn’t like The Goonies…can you even imagine?), but I’m a moron who can’t get on the right train, apparently. And getting anywhere in Brooklyn is always needlessly involved. So by the time we entered the park the ground was completely covered in a blanket of Brooklynites sitting on bedsheets and newspapers, beer and picnic spreads within reach.

We stayed for a while anyway: no one minding that we were shouting over the dulcet chords of Hector’s Pets because everyone else was also there to shout over the band and just hang with each other. I should have gotten a picture of that I guess, the crowd of people and a movie screen that was about as big as a thumbnail in the distance, but I often forget to take pictures when I’m around J-Bird. It’s a thing.

We ended up leaving for Bushwick pretty early on, anyway. One of the previews was completely in French and my companion couldn’t tell because he couldn’t hear so…

I’m writing this, by the way, under the assumption that no one I met last night will ever read this, and by and large I feel that this is a valid assumption. Internet: don’t fail me now.

Anyway. In J-Bird I’ve found someone who navigates very much like myself. We both use the Google Maps app like it’s a game of hot and cold, staring at our dots to see if they’re going in the right direction and doubling back more often than not. We miss turn-offs and subway stops and always find the most convoluted way to trace our steps back. If I weren’t us, I’d be worried about us.

I’m worried about us.

Eventually, we did make it to Bushwick. And I think I may have fallen in love with that neighborhood. J-Bird’s cousin bumped into us by the food carts, which in retrospect isn’t that surprising considering we were just outside the L stop,  and he now makes three people I know who work at the same tech start-up. Obviously, this is a sign from the gods; I’m just not sure what it’s indicative of yet.

We walked together on the shuttered streets: houses cluttered against warehouses littered against stores with their doors and windows locked away tight. It’s dark down there, compared to Manhattan. Compared even to when I’m the only one walking down Mott at three in the morning. Sparser, when you move away from the main roads. And maybe the street lamps even carry more of an amber hue, diffusing their light more dimly in the darkness.

J-Bird and his friends found a really nice place. A two-story walk-up with white siding and a mural of a girl despairingly turning her face up at the light pollution sky pasted all down one side of it. Her face looms along a rooftop balcony that looks out onto the tracks of the M train, elevated high above the streets.

The house itself was full of crazies when I got there. J-Bird and our friend (and one of his roommates) the Philosopher were already confirmed as mild-mannered sociopaths, but I finally met the third of their trifecta and now I understand the dynamic. I met a dancer with no inhibitions: not even the ones that are instinctual and are never taught. I met a Russian girl who was almost unnervingly earnest, and taking time off to get her life together. I met another girl crashing in the living room on a futon who, by description, apparently was more married to her boyfriend than many husbands are to their wives, and a final sandy-haired boy I didn’t speak more than a dozen words to. He was fast asleep by some normal time: dead to our inconsiderate loudness.

New York is a vertical city. And I guess that’s true even when you’re way out of the way in a place where the highest structure is the subway. Because even then life happens on rooftops, where cigarettes are currency and conversation is smoke wafting away like so many words to the wind.

And so we laughed and spoke of many things. Music, obviously, because so many of us present straddled that weird divide of aesthetics and technology. But also of more obscure things. The Gospel of Thomas, where Jesus plays the part of a bodhisattva. Of monastic life and sweeper monks and the almighty janitorial service. Of what it means to want to create art for the rest of your life but having no idea yet what to do about it. And then came the lull when I watched the other girls dance: unselfconsciously sure of their bodies in a way that was at once completely foreign and also a reminder of what I’ve lost.

I’ll be fascinated to learn what everyone on that rooftop will become. It was a strange brew of the casual insincerity that I’ve become accustomed to and am an active participant in, of probing questions that were at once innocuous and unmasking, and of the sheer force of utter insanity packed into tight spaces.

I stayed late with them there. J-Bird saw me to the door in the small hours, a sloppy smile hanging crooked on his face. He’s always happier by the time I’m leaving, which always leaves me to ponder what kind of terms I’m on with him, as a friend. Whether he’s happy to or indifferent to see me. He promises we’ll hang out again, this summer. I hope so. J-Bird is chill. I want to get him to make music with me, but he seems to like the idea of the thing more than the thing itself. I respect that. I do that a lot, too. But I always want to make music with my friends. We’ll see.

He sent me off by telling me just to follow the M tracks until I got to a station, without indication of how far I would walk until I found one. Which was fine, because the unknowing leant generously to the eerie splendor of that evening. The huge, rusting stilts of the subway tracks bit into the pavement like the legs of some monolithic creature with the body of a segmented worm that snaked high above the streets. The B buses passed beneath it, their low-hanging maws scraping the pavement with screeches that echoed off of steel-shuttered storefronts. And from the sidewalk, the road blurred into a dystopic dreamworld of graffiti tags and solitary walkers, each going their own ways.

The path was interminable, and so was the wait for a late night train. I didn’t mind much: it was like walking in Blade Runner without the rain. It was like sitting in my own imagination. It was the infinite pleasure of seeing train tracks in the night, and not quite being sure where they lead.

(Mexican) Food for Thought

No, I promise you this is not turning into a food blog (and because I know several friends of mine actually have food blogs: there is nothing wrong with a food blog, I’d just be very bad at keeping one) but meals are worth mentioning occasionally. Especially since we so often break bread with our friends. Or, in this case, tortillas.

La Esquina: the Corner deli that can’t really be described as a corner deli

I have literally spent the summer living down the street from this place and it always piqued my interest. Problematically, I’ve always been too poor to try it, but hey: in a few days I’ll be back in Jersey and I’ll probably never live around the corner from it again. Carpe diem may as well apply to restaurants if you use it to justify anything at all in your life.

Eating out front. Warning: view contains Agent Smith

Eating out front. Warning: view contains Agent Smith

Agent Smith and the Laurasaur indulged me in my fancy, and we made a fine trio in the outdoor dining area. The evening was deceptively cool: you could almost forget that New York City is, in fact, a circle of Hell in the summer months. And the food itself made a decent excuse to gather.

There’s nothing quite like sharing a meal with friends. I am by no means a food critic, but everyone agreed that the yucca fries were quite palatable. We even broke the final piece into three, so as to limit any guilt one might feel for being the rat bastard who steals the last fry. That said, not all stealing feels wrong. There is no greater pleasure than snatching bites from another’s plate, as long as the said other returns the favor.

Oh, stealing and looting: such are the true hallmarks of friendship. And conversation, I suppose. Speaking a common (metaphorical) tongue is so important. This isn’t limited to, or commonly even delineated by, a shared spoken language but often has to do with gesture and allusion: an entire culture of verbal and non-verbal cues that build context.

How fortunate we are to meet each other, as friends. To share enough cultural context that we may find a halfway point when we talk about dance crazes or after school shows and know what the other actually means. To make running jokes about non-Euclidean geometry and how, because of it, clouds drive us insane.

And it’s almost awe-inspiring to think of the very act of communication it takes just to make an H.P. Lovecraft joke. It isn’t just that we’re forming words, those emissaries that vibrate their way through the air, it’s that on the other side the listener receives the whole idea of the thing—the shape of concept. It’s this that we pass to one another, and not just the words themselves.

This is the true power of language, and it’s not even something that we ever think about when we’re actually communicating with each other. To think: to tell a potty joke you’re using the same means your ancestors did to share ideas across empires—to create the ties to build the empires themselves.

And what goes on between any group of friends is more than a handful of casual words or gestures. Communication is so much more substantial than that: it exists almost tangibly, and it’s comparable the carne and the chile and the mole and the fritas we passed around. The food, the language, the mores and the cultural references: these make our common tongue.

I’m Actually Going to be Published. In a Book. That Will Actually be Bound. Like Books Are.

Something I wrote is going to be published.

It’s not a book.

But it’ll be in a book?

And it’s not the best thing I’ve ever written.

Thank goodness. I really don’t want to peak in college. That would just almost be as bad as peaking in high school, which, come to think of it: I may have actually peaked in high school.

Nah. Well…maybe. I’m way less cool in college, that’s for sure.

Mathematician John Nash was obsessed with making it before thirty: apparently a number of his contemporaries did their best work in their youth. And while Nash did do great work which eventually won him a Nobel Prize, the prize in question was for…economics. (And strictly speaking it’s not an actual Nobel Prize because it’s not in one of the original categories; it’s actually the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.)

Okay, as a writer/sound engineer I think I may not actually be allowed to take shots at economists. Also, my sister majored in econ. So everyone should just pretend my math major friend said it instead.

“As a writer.” Do I get to say that now? Probably not: that’s like calling myself a blogger because I keep this site. The terminology is technically accurate, but but you’ll never be able to take yourself seriously.

Anyway, just like every liberal arts-based university in the US, NYU students have to take an expository writing class in freshman year. Because I’m in Steinhardt, the red-headed stepchild of our fine university, I had to take two, but that’s beside the point. The point is that I wrote something my professor liked so much that she suggested I submit it to Mercer Street: the publication of our school’s expository writing program. Every year, around thirty essays (out of 500+ submissions…I need to make this sound as good as possible) are chosen for a new edition. And this year, one of my essays—Beyond Death: The Aesthetics of the Human Corpse—made the cut.

Warning: contains my face. But yeah, that's the letter they sent me in the mail. After they sent me an email like a month ago? I guess they're actually printed now, though.

Warning: contains my face. But yeah, that’s the letter they sent me in the mail. After they sent me an email like a month ago? I guess they’re actually printed now, though.

As you can extrapolate from the title, the essay is about art and death and dead bodies and poses the question: who do human corpses belong to, anyway? So you know, basically all the bright, positive things you expect me to write about from reading my daily ramblings.

Whatever. I get two complimentary copies and a $35 gift card for the NYU Bookstore. Obviously, I’ve made the big time.

Okay, I usually like to at least end these things on a positive note (see previous entry for a particularly poignant one) but we’re going to take the time to talk about how sad this is. On the submission form for Mercer Street it says chosen essayists will receive a $35 “honorarium.” Hey College of Arts and Sciences: just call a gift certificate a gift certificate. I’m a nerd. I guarantee you that if you’d given me actual money I would have spent it on stationery and books anyway.

Well…a book, some pens, and maybe a froyo. I’m a fat nerd.