Paul LaRosa's Blog
November 22, 2013
I just finished reading what I believe is the novel of the year — “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt.
Tartt has been widely praised for her writing since she came on the literary scene back in 1992 when “The Secret History” was published. I read it, liked it and forgot it but I’ll never forget “The Goldfinch.” This book — nominally about a young boy’s life and his fascination with one particular painting — is so well-written that I found myself highlighting sentence after sentence until I just stopped because the entire book is that good.
This is one novel where everything came together for Tartt — characters, dialogue, plot and, most of all, ideas. I’m not a huge fan of a lot of literary novels because many of them are all about the writing and not so much about the plot. This book has the writing and plot and is a rare literary page-turner full of characters you care about. I dare say that Boris, friend of the main character Theo Decker, nearly steals the story. He is full of life with a dark side best enjoyed from afar; he is deliciously entertaining.
Reading this, I was most reminded of Holden Caulfield from that other watershed novel but the friendship between Theo and Boris also brings to mind “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” That said, the last chapter of the book is reminiscent of “The Great Gatsby.”
I think you get the idea — I loved this book and I have to laugh when Amazon suggests “books similar to ‘The Goldfinch.’” They don’t exist.
November 20, 2013
one frame of the infamous Zapruder film
How many times have you seen the Zapruder film, that infamous footage that captured the murder of JFK?
Even before the 50th Anniversary, I’d guess I’ve seen it hundreds of times. I find it fascinating and think it greatly adds to the information and misinformation about what happened in Dallas that iconic day.
But I often wonder if something similar to the images captured by the Zapruder film were captured today, if we’d ever see a frame of it. What brings this to mind are the photographs and video of people jumping off the World Trade Center that has disappeared from our visual vocabulary. It’s not that I want to dwell on those horrible sights but I’m somewhat surprised — even in this age of YouTube — how much we censor the historical record of that day.
And it’s not some government agency censoring it — it’s the networks and cable channels themselves. Individually, they’ve decided those shots will only be available on YouTube and even there, the footage begins with a stern warning about being over 18 years old.
Contrast that with the images of the assassination of President Kennedy that appear on television, especially this week. Over and over again, we see Kennedy’s head being blown off and, because the footage is in color (unusual for that time when many Americans did not have color television sets), it’s very easy to see the blood flying.
Would you prefer the Zapruder film was kept under lock and key? I wonder if today, the department of Homeland Security would that under lock and key pronto? (By the way, there are some pretty entertaining stories in the Wikipedia entry; not sure if all of them are true.)
November 3, 2013
There was a lot of security in the air and plenty of worry after what happened in Boston but it was smooth sailing today for NYC’s Marathon. The only trouble was the weather — it was cold and windy but everyone had a good time. If you can’t be in the city, this is about as close as you can get. Taken along 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. This is a slide show so please give it a chance….
October 31, 2013
If you’re at all squeamish and worry about the power and ubiquity of companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google, maybe you shouldn’t read the novel “The Circle” by Dave Eggers. On the other hand, maybe you should read it to confirm your darkest fears. And if you’re a fan of said companies, you too should read it as a warning of what the future might look like.
Everyone should read it because it’s a terrific book.
“The Circle” is about a fictional Silicon Valley company of the same name that is more or less a combination of Facebook and Google. The plot revolves around a young woman (Mae Holland) who secures a job at the company through a friend. Almost immediately, the job changes her life for the better. She is praised for her work, the working environment/campus (where employees are encouraged to spend the night) is spotless and fun, and she can even add her parents to her medical insurance. Take that Obamacare!
What’s not to like, right? But the company has a very dark side; it will not rest until every member of the human race has a Circle account. Even more disturbing, it will not rest until its concept of ‘transparency’ is adopted by all. What does transparency mean? No secrets, no private life — everything you do (and this includes sex) will be public. Cameras are everywhere, watching our every move. The company is fond of saying, ‘nothing is deleted’ and everything is on the cloud.
By achieving total transparency, the company elders believe, no one will ever commit a crime again because we can all see what each of us is doing. Children are implanted with chips so no one can kidnap and abuse them. Everything is monitored, everything is tracked to an absurd degree.
Eggers of course takes this all to an extreme but the scariest aspect of the book is that it does not seem all that far-fetched. After reading it, I began pulling back on information I previously had online and lying about other information. If they’re going to watch us, giving out bad information might be our best bet.
I found this book to be a page-turner and harrowing. If the future looks like this, count me out.
October 28, 2013
(New York Magazine)
I’ve never been a big fan of Bill de Blasio, even though he is a Democrat, lives a couple of blocks from me and has that Italian-American last name. His message about the Tale of Two Cities does not resonate with me the way it does with — apparently — a lot of New Yorkers. But that was before I had a (one-sided) conversation last week with an out and out Manhattan elitist.
It was at a birthday party for a friend of mine at Carmine’s restaurant on the Upper West Side, just a few blocks from where Mr. Elitist lived. Toward the end of the night, this guy began provoking everyone at the table with his views which might be laughable if they were not so sincere.
Among other things, he ranted with gusto about:
– Only the upper middle class and the super rich should live in Manhattan. Low-income groups need not apply; that’s what the four other boroughs are for.
– There should be no rent control or stabilization.
– Poor people are poor because they’re lazy.
– Brooklyn is nowhere-ville and the one time he took a car service to the borough, his wife began hyperventilating because she was not in Manhattan.
Crazy, right? In a perfect world, I might agree with him about rent control and rent stabilization but New York is not a perfect world. There is tremendous pressure on housing here because of the super-rich from everywhere BUT New York.
A number of us at the table tried to tell Mr. Elitist that, no, poor people were not just poor because they were lazy and that he had enjoyed opportunities that most Americans do not. His father was a lawyer, he was educated at the best schools and he comes from money. It’s true that he started his own successful business but he’s one of those who like to believe he did it all on his own and that it had nothing to do with his life circumstances. Right, like the exact same thing would have happened if he’d been raised poor out in Canarsie.
After much bloviating on his part, I couldn’t take it any longer and got up to leave. That’s when a waiter, who’d been listening to our heated conversation, button-holed me and said, “People like that don’t believe in diversity and don’t want artists and writers and others to live in Manhattan…only the wealthy.”
I said, “You’re right. Why don’t you jump in and tell him what you think.”
To which the waiter said, “Nah, you can’t do anything with guys like that. They believe their own ignorance.”
But coming face to face with such an elitist upset and I got to thinking, maybe de Blasio is onto something. If that’s the way some of the rich think, I know the way I’m voting on Election Day.
October 17, 2013
The ghost gnome sees all
One of the great things about New York City is its propinquity, the possibilities that exist because disparate people are living within spitting distance of each other. In many ways, that’s why New York is magical; it embodies that idea. Walking the streets of New York one gets the feeling that anything can happen, that it’s possible you could run into anyone.
To give just one small example, last week, as I was leaving one of my lunchtime standbys, I spotted the actor Jeff Goldblum sitting by himself at a nearby table quietly enjoying his lunch. That doesn’t happen just anywhere. Small thrill, perhaps, but that kind of thing doesn’t just happen everywhere.
And then last night, I went out with my camera to photograph the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and, as I was leaving, I literally crossed Orchard Street and wandered into an art gallery opening. These two worlds embodied by these institutions could not have been more different.
The museum is dedicated to documenting the lives of poor immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the art gallery is dedicated to displaying contemporary and provocative art. To state the obvious, the differences between the two spaces was jarring. My senses were alive in the gallery, perhaps much more so because, by crossing the street, I had time traveled away from a place where eight children once slept on couch to this! (I’ll post the photos from the Tenement Museum some other time.)
October 13, 2013
The TWA Terminal at JFK stands as maybe the last vestige of the golden age of flying. It is a spectacular design both inside and out by architect Eero Saarinen; it opened in 1962 and closed for good in 2001, just after 9/11. The exterior was designed to look like an eagle and the inside, well, the inside is space age all the way and reminiscent of The Jetsons.
October 10, 2013
I’ve been watching with more than a passing degree of curiosity as the saga of Baby Hope unfolds in New York. If you’re not familiar with the story, Baby Hope was an unnamed and unknown young girl whose body was found in a blue picnic cooler near the side of a Manhattan highway back in 1991. Police at the time were mystified because no one had reported a child missing and no one came forward to claim the child’s body.
It was a complete mystery but rather than let the child be buried on New York’s Hart Island (that’s another story for another day), investigators chipped in, bought a headstone with the name Baby Hope and had her buried in St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx. That gravesite is about 25 feet from my parents’ headstone so I’ve often visited with Baby Hope over the years. It’s impossible not to notice, with all the small figures, flowers and notes for information at the site.
Now, the police — thanks to their dogged work on the case — have received a tip that should clear up the mystery once and for all and the poor child — certainly a victim of abuse and neglect — will be buried under her real name. You can read more on the investigation here. The police seem convinced they’ve found her mother and are searching for her father. Because of the statute of limitations, the only crime left to charge anyone with is murder and the investigation is continuing.
Coincidentally, I visited another cemetery the other day — the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, one of the most famous and beautiful cemeteries in the country. It’s such an interesting place with so many well-known figures buried there (the composer Leonard Bernstein and infamous politician Boss Tweed are among the interred), that the cemetery runs trolley tours. I kid you not. Last weekend, I took one such tour because the mausoleums were open and you had the chance to walk inside. What a treat! Not your typical fall weekend but….while there, I took a few photos.
October 6, 2013
Paul Simon talking to New Yorker poetry editor Paul Muldoon Sunday night (October 6 2013) in New York
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again.
Those words are so haunting even after all these years. They are of course from “Sounds of Silence” and they still have to be among the best opening lines ever for a rock/pop song. They could also be the opening of a short story by Edgar Allan Poe for that matter.
But Paul Simon, a boy from Forest Hills, Queens, wrote them and last night, he talked about songwriting at the New Yorker Festival. I was lucky enough to get one ticket for the venue which held only about 300 people. Simon, who turns 72 years old in a week, was accompanied by his guitar that he picked up regularly during the 90 minute talk to make a point about this of that song.
When pressed about the artistic process of writing a song, Paul said he thought that, almost above all else, you had to be “looking.” “It’s really a character trait,” he said, and told how, when he was just a kid, he would always look down when he walked because “sometimes I would find a quarter and one time I found a dollar. Oh the amount of baseball cards one could buy with a dollar.”
But the point, he said, is that you had to be looking to find those nuggets. I’ve heard a lot of artists over the years describe that trait as curiosity. I personally call it “having your antenna up.” You need to be aware of things around you and little oddities and phrases to be creative, I believe.
I’ll just list some of the points he made along the way. Some you may have heard before but I never did:
– “Mother and Child Reunion” was the title of a chicken and egg dish on a Chinese menu.
– Paul keeps a notebook (a cheap spiral one) around all the time to jot down a phrase he sees or a thought that pops into his head.
– The song he’s most embarrassed by is “Dangling Conversation” but he didn’t say why.
– “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” is not about gay sex, as Truman Capote speculated. Paul said he doesn’t know what the song is about and titled it that just “to get the name Julio” into a song.
– He had only four heroes in his life: JFK, Lenny Bruce, Mickey Mantle and Elvis who wound up recording “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”
– When Paul was in South Africa recording the album that became Graceland, he came up with the lyric “I’m going to Graceland” from the music that reminded him of a song that might come out of Sun Records. But he’d never been to Graceland so, when he got back to America, he drove down without telling anyone he was going and just waited on line and bought a ticket. Later, the lyrics of the rest of the song about the Mississippi delta and all of that came to him on the ride back.
I had the feeling he could have talked much longer but he ended the night by playing a new track for an upcoming hour and then he finished off with “Songs of Silence.” It was mesmerizing hearing it in that small venue. What a great artist he’s been over all these years. Those of us who grew up in the ’60s were truly blessed with a host of great artists. The sheer number of them working during that decade has never been matched since IMO.
October 2, 2013
Sen. Ted Cruz
It’s a scary notion — behaving like the Tea Party-goers — but what if everyone behaved that way.
What if, for example, the Yankees, who did not make the playoffs, showed up at Fenway Park for the opening game and took the field. To the curious Sox players and fans, Yankee skipper (playing the role of Sen. Ted Cruz) might say, “Hey, I know we finished out of the running but we’re not leaving the field until you — the Boston Red Sox — trade us Clay Buchholz for next season.”
David Ortiz would sally up to Girardi and say, “Hey man, get off the field. You lost. This is our game.”
“What, you mean you won’t give us Clay or any of the your other pitchers either?”
“Well that’s not very sporting of you David,” Girardi says. “You mean you won’t negotiate at all? How about giving us one of your other guys?”
At that point, Girardi would wave to all the Yanks to sit down on the field so the game couldn’t be played. “Well, when you’re ready to negotiate, let us know. In the meantime, send over the beer guy.”
But that’s the way the Tea Party is behaving. They say they can’t believe President Obama would entertain the idea of negotiating with Iranians but not them. There are many differences but chief among them is that the President is not negotiating with the Iranians over a law that’s been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
It’s not like Affordable Health Care Law is a bill — it’s a law that’s been upheld by the highest court in the land. The Tea Party doesn’t like that. Well, that’s too bad. When you lose and finish out of the money, you lose. Just ask the Yankees.