Monday, June 18, 2007

Wigwam Swamis In The Main Frame

What's left of Palestine is a living hell, with Israel poised to assault (yet again) Gaza. Iraq continues to explode and burn. We're now blasting religious schools in Afghanistan, killing children in the process of our noble effort to win hearts and minds in this Great Struggle. Plus, I've got a HuffPo post to write, so it seems trivial if not distracting to report on my trip to NYC over the weekend. But I had a really good time, and given what other topics are immediately at hand, you'll forgive me for beginning the week with that.

First, I'm not giving anything away by saying how much I miss the city. Yes, it has changed -- a lot, all in favor of the rich and well-connected, and there are more tourists than ever before, which clogs the sidewalks with people who don't know how to city walk, looking at maps, staring up at the buildings, and the rest. But the pulse still burns as it did in my day, and it takes me all of five minutes to tap right back into the main vein.

My pal Smilp and his beautiful girlfriend A. picked me up at LaGuardia, then whisked me to lower Chinatown, just under the Manhattan Bridge. Smilp insisted that I try a noodle shop that he recently discovered, a hole in the wall with two tables and a short dining counter. Business was brisk. We squeezed in and ate a spare but filling meal of homemade noodles and greens in a hot pepper sauce. Smilp didn't exaggerate: it was the best Chinese food I'd had in years, much better than the bland, rubbery crap they serve in Michigan (you'd be better off with La Choy at home). The cramped kitchen was right next to us, pots clanging, steam hissing, orders shouted out in what I guessed was Cantonese. The front door was open, and just above the steps raced countless pedestrians, visible only from the knees down.

I was in my element.

We dropped A. somewhere near midtown, then Smilp drove over to Chelsea so we could tour some of the many art galleries there. Most of the paintings at various spaces left me cold, as they seemed derivative of Basquiat, Rauschenberg, and Stella. But there were some interesting and engaging pieces, most especially at the Anna Kustera Gallery. I particularly liked Adham Faramawy's video installation, "The Six Organs," and Ju$t Another Rich Kid & Stuart Semple's "Teen Dream Chaos." The latter, which you can see here (scroll down), is dense and very detailed, with each piece of a teen girl's bedroom strategically placed, right down to the scrawls on a crumpled newspaper featuring a passed out Lindsay Lohan. Then there was Stuart Semple's "Kurt Lied," which I would love to have hanging in my office -- that is, if I was rich enough to throw $25-large at the thing. Unlike most of the other patrons, whose elegant clothes immediately announce their wealth, Smilp and I were rumpled, scruffy, and clearly not in any financial shape to even fantasize about buying a painting or sculpture. Yet, this didn't stop Smilp from acting as if we were rich, eccentric types, and he would ask each gallery owner how much this or that piece cost.

"$125,000, sir."

"I see," Smilp replied, rubbing his chin as if actually contemplating a purchase. "Has anyone else made a bid?"

"A few. But as you can see, it's still here."

"Hmm. Yes, well, we may be back for this soon."

"Very good, sir. Thank you."

It was all I could do to remain in character.

After the galleries closed, Smilp and I drove to the Upper West Side to attend the newcritics party that was the main reason for my visit. He dropped me on Broadway and went to find a parking space. As I walked around, waiting for his return, I noticed a pair of very shapely legs on a small woman striding with purpose, talking loudly into her cell. She looked vaguely familiar from behind, so I walked past her and quickly glimpsed as I did. And lo and behold, it was The Nation's editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel. She appeared to have some kind of technical problem that wasn't being addressed, which gave her voice added edge. I'd only met Katrina once before, at a Nation party in the Village ages ago, and that didn't go all that well, so I turned and strolled southward, where Smilp soon joined me.

The party had already commenced, with several clusters of people chatting on a rooftop overlooking the beautiful Manhattan skyline. I had not met nor knew any of these people personally, so it was nice to actually place a face with their respective blog. The host, M.A. Peel, dressed in a Sixties-style/Twiggy-ish jacket, introduced us to a few other bloggers before leaving us to circulate. After some small talk, I went to the open bar for a beer, then stood at the edge of the roof's wall, soaking in the dusk-framed skyline. As Woody Allen put it in "Manhattan", I don't care what anybody says about the city -- it simply knocks me out every time I'm there.

I fell into a few interesting conversations, from the suit-and-tie-clad Tom Watson (with whom I didn't clash over our stark positions on Hillary), to the earthy Kathleen Maher. Lance Mannion and I spoke briefly. But for me, the real juice came when I joined Maud Newton and James Wolcott for an extended dialogue about blogs, the rightwing, publishing, agents, among various other topics. Maud was fighting a bad cold, but she was a very amusing and energetic conversationalist. Jim was great to talk to, and unlike many people at Manhattan cocktail parties, he actually listens to what you have to say, which, given his place in the magazine/blogger world, means a lot. It was a genuine delight to have met them both, and I look forward to more conversations with them in the future.

That will have to do for today. There's much to catch up to on the home front, so I'll finish my little travel report tomorrow. Aloha.