Thursday, September 25, 2014

Borrowed Nostalgia


This is a detail from the roof of a sampan in Hong Kong's Aberdeen fishing village, a floating village of house boats that seems to rely just as much on tourism as it does on fishing.

It reminded me of Jiu Fen, a mountain town in Taiwan I had the opportunity to visit once again this past summer. Both places have become tourist traps through a combination of nostalgia and picturesque scenery.

Jiu Fen is my mother's home town and I've been haunted by it ever since I visited it in the winter of 1999. It was already a tourist destination at that point but on a much smaller scale than what I saw this past summer. We looked at what my mother thought was the house she was born in but it turns out it was another house, and we should have knocked because her cousin still lives there. My interest in Jiu Fen feels like a case of borrowed nostalgia.

Two film makers, Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Miyazaki, the Japanese animator (in his film, Spirited Away), have used the melancholy geography (think mountain mist and striking views of the ocean--China somewhere in the distance) and preserved architecture to create nostalgia.

Once Hou Hsiao-hsien made the movie A City of Sadness, filmed in Jiu Fen, the town went from economically depressed to tourist destination. The very thing that kept the town looking the way it had since the mining days of Japanese colonization (the collapse of the mining industry) is what "saved" it in the end through the exploitation of Taiwanese nostalgia. I'm looking forward to seeing A City of Sadness at the Museum of the Moving Image next month. I've seen it once but like I said, I have a borrowed sense of nostalgia that can't be completely fulfilled. I want to try to understand this better by watching the movie and comparing it to what I saw this summer, and what I know about my family history in the town. When my mother first saw Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times, what she liked most about the movie is that it gave her a pretty picture of her youth. What does it mean to have a pretty picture of a youth that doesn't even belong to you?

Friday, July 18, 2014

"Who Do You Think You Are?"

 I don't know what's going to go in this space on Vanderbilt but this was spray painted on the outside. This place used to be a bodega.

I wish this was me.
This is actually me somewhere on the Upper East Side. I was born in Manhattan, lived in Manhattan for about 29 years, but I can't imagine ever living there again. It's not the same place I grew up in, and I'm sure most people feel the same way about the place they grew up but I suspect this is always true about Manhattan.


In June I was obsessed with this song, "Riding for the Feeling," by Bill Callahan.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"You Can't Have a Tea Party Without T&A"

Corner trash can at 5th Avenue and 3rd Street, Park Slope.

I think your favorite "bad" Rolling Stones song says a lot about you. For today mine is "Little T&A". Here's an instrumental outtake.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Villain Works

 Somewhere in Park Slope.

This is an example of the "tattooed wood" artist Steve Keene has on display at the Brooklyn Public Library.
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A friend told me that someone said this about me: "She has a sharp wit that's good as long as it's not turned on you." Part of me DGAF that this was said about me, but of course part of me does care. I don't think it's an accurate portrait of who I am now--this was said by someone who hasn't spoken to me since 1999, so...grain of salt, I suppose.  I do think it says a lot about the person who said it, though. It's clear that I said things that hurt her, that probably still hurt her, otherwise why the pointed remark? Anyway, that's not really my MO if it ever was. I was always trying to be funny to get closer to people, not to push them away.

I just conducted a lengthy interview on humor writing with a writer I respect, and admire. In the interview I asked questions about irreverence and empathy in humor and I hope you all get to read it in the future.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

"In a horror movie when the car won't start you give it one last try"

We are on a mountain where there is no cell phone reception. Right now it's mid-70s, near noon, and the wind chimes at my back, the cicadas in the brush, and the birds chirping are signaling PEACE, but everything changes once the sun goes down. Wind chimes should be illegal once the sun sets because everyone knows they are the soundtrack to your murder.

This boat was docked at the waterfront in Cold Spring, New York. Last night I ate a steak in front of Beacon Falls and it was delicious. The Pimm's Cup was refreshing but I realize that I will never have a Pimm's Cup as good as the one I had at the Napoleon House in New Orleans. The blaring classical music at Napoleon House made the experience just that much more cathartic. The waterfall at Beacon tried, but could not compete. Still, the company was great. We talked about terrible first dates and my friend told us about the guy who picked up his plate and licked it. 



Saturday, July 5, 2014

From the Right Angle

This is a small detail from Ai Wei Wei's piece, Map of China, currently at the Brooklyn Museum.
You cannot see the entirety of this piece, or even know what it is a representation of, by looking at it straight on. I suppose you can't make a map of China without including the hotly contested Taiwan. I'll be visiting again at the end of July and I'll also be visiting Hong Kong for the first time. I'll finally be able to say I've been to China, though not really.

Before I went to the museum I was walking toward Vanderbilt Avenue and saw that someone had left a hefty two volume abridged Oxford Dictionary on the sidewalk. I examined it and saw that the books were in good condition. At the top of the case there was a drawer but it was empty. Since I was just around the corner from one of my favorite bookstores, Unnameable, I picked it up and walked in to see if I could sell if or get store credit for it. The owner said that he already had two and couldn't take it. I told him I'd just found it and he encouraged me to keep it. He asked if it had the magnifying glass that comes with the set--so that's what went inside the little drawer. No, that was long gone.

After I left the store I carried the dictionary one more block before abandoning it next to another stoop. Hopefully someone has given it a good home. I had other places to be and I couldn't carry a heavy dictionary with me, though I would have liked to check it into the Brooklyn Museum's coat check just to see the look on the attendant's face. 


Wednesday, July 2, 2014