Friday, May 31, 2013

In the Land of Myth & Honey

Wandering down to ground zero on the off-chance I could slip in to see the new memorial, which opened in April, but required a complicated reservation/line up kind of logistics that made me balk. Back in NYC again, I felt compelled to at least try my luck, and my friend Rob was game, so off we went. Turned out they had a line for walk-ons and it wasn't even crowded. In we went, down long snaking fenced passageways and through a building where they put us through airport-like security (note to self: baggy pants may be comfy and stylish, but when you have to take your belt off for security, they provide serious challenges). Emerging and wending our way through more fenced walkways with arrows and lane markers for the two-lane traffic (a lot of people, but like an LA freeway in 1978--moving at a good clip), we eventually reached the park, crowded with newly-planted California white oaks. The behemoth loomed (seen below from the cemetery at St. Paul's, and below that, rising above the memorial park). I don't like this building at all, its name (Liberty Tower) or its sort of defiant jingoistic phallic blunt expression of power and strength. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn't built in the place of the twin towers at all, but off to one side. I'd made the wrong assumption that commerce had won out and they'd simply scuttled the idea of creating a park and begun to build the next tower. I'd forgotten how much space was there and always had been, even when the towers were still standing. I'd clearly not read much about it after my initial interest was curtailed and finally evaporated by the squabbling and political punditry over how best to memorialize the event and rehabilitate the space

Imagine my surprise when I saw this:

There are two of them and they inhabit the space where each of the towers stood. It was powerful, eerie, not at all avoiding the idea of was almost Aztec in its direct look at death through art. My mind about the memorial and the space changed completely and I felt like there was a brutal honesty to this memorial I could have never imagined and that almost made my jaw drop. It's somehow perfect, meaning one feels a lot of conflicting and difficult emotions about love and death and society and the individual, earth, air, fire, water. It's a little like the sublime one experiences before an awesome natural phenomena--even a little like the sublime and disturbing awe one feels watching the towers fall.  And it must evoke that somehow. It really feels like a giant waterfall to me--like Niagara, Vernal, Iguazu...there is an awesome power coupled with a sort of respectful fear and then the eerie descent into who knows can't see what's down in that pit, that well. We discussed it a bit and thought the hole is a bit abysmal, like hell itself, but the falling water tempers and softens the harshness of the image...there is a comfort and letting go in the water that urges you to remember them, each, like us all, a single drop in the falling water.

I started reading the names which are listed all along the rail surrounding the falls. Shocked at all the Irish names--Brennan, Murphy, Sullivan--I remembered that horrible rumor that spread across Pakistan after the attacks that it was all part of the international Jewish conspiracy and all the Jews had been tipped off and stayed home. Well, I read on....Kaplan, Bloomfield, Weiss, get the idea. We kept reading--there were names from every culture on earth: Indian names, Arabaic names, Spanish and Italian names, Chinese, Korean and Japanese, African, Nahuatl! This is another part of couldn't help thinking of all the people who have come to NYC from all over the world...come to this place, to this hole in the ground, this collective grave, the consciousness of which (falling like water) moves the experience far beyond America and patriotism and into something universal, but still haunted by a global system (species?) that blindly sacrifices human beings in the service of empire. This is USA, this is Rome, Babylon, the Third Reich--same as it ever was. All around us stand their towers. Who are they? Humans all, but too lost in the lesser side of their natures....I think of Auden and his poem, "September, 1939": 

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

This memorial is in the lobby of the American Express Building across the commemorates the lives of 6 people who died there...each one is described above their name with words like 'kind', 'always smiling' 'helped everybody,' and single drops of water drop from the ceiling every few minutes to splash and send small ripples across the pool in each of the 6 triangles
Here's all the info on the 9-11 Memorial:

The Frank Gehry designed building, one of the most beautiful skyscrapers I've seen in a very long time

Yes, some of those towers are so beautiful...the empire may own them and finance them, but artists design them. In the end, the twin towers belong to the people who had worked in they have their twin pools to refresh and connect with the other humans who come to learn about interdependence...I dreamed of them all there, swimming about in those pools, some of them pulled down into the well, but all strangely mermaid-like, naiad or nymph-like...creatures of the water

How strange this statue, trapped behind a fence in the construction zone at Ground Zero, commemorating the US soldiers who have been liberators of the comment, just meditate on that for a brief moment

 We drifted down past Wall Street and into the oldest part of Manhattan...


Author friend and brilliant man all around, Rob Stephenson

Eventually, we came upon the Vietnam Memorial (there are letters home written by soldiers embossed into the glass)

Once again, shocked...youngest guy to die in Vietnam...15

An intense day all around, we returned to water once again at the close of it, and we sat for a long time viewing the bridges, the water taxis and young lovers amidst the warm breeze and the sweet calming grace of water

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day by Day in Treme

The always refreshing city of New Orleans, unlike any place else in the country....and probably among the friendliest cities in the world
Here's the de Bienville statue (city founder), complete with friar and Native dude in high colonial style...but lest you assume New Orleans is like other American cities, it's unique in that--among other things--there were always free black people here, even during the slave era (many from Haiti after the all about it:
Many aspects of New Orleans remind me of Buenos Aires...the latin architecture, the collapsing and faded grandeur, the political corruption and dubious infrastructure, the amazing friendliness and skill at living in the moment

Sighting fauns in a city like New Orleans is almost redundant...

and incidentally, yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring

...and where there are fauns, pixies and faeries are wont to play

Saints & Sinners Book Fair was great...did panels on Voice, YA, How to Survive as a Writer and AIDS literature. Also did readings and had the honor of presenting an award to Bernard Cooper

With authors Jeffrey Ricker and Sassafras Lowery on YA...there is now a New Adult (NA) market category as well for 20somethings... stay tuned for OA

 With authors Michael Thomas Ford, Jess Wells, Marty Hyatt and Fay Jacobs on How to Survive...Jess and I have both been Buddhist practitioners/students and shared how getting comfortable with disappointment and impermanence and simply 'what is' are all essential qualities necessary to stick with the writing life...we all have themes in our lives and one of mine has always been 'getting discouraged'...what better teacher than the writing life to work through that one! And no better philosophy than Buddhism to weather the rough spots.....we talked a lot about gratefulness too...we are lucky to be able to do this at all....we deserve better sure...but then, who doesn't? Onward...

Saints & Sinners Hall of Famers Jeff Mann, Bernard Cooper, Andrew Holleran, Amie Evans and Marianne Martin (all wonderful and generous people, well deserving of such an award)

Some of the memorable and friendly characters I had the pleasure of spending my time with over the long weekend in this lovely city

Benjamin Morrisson of Times Picayune

Tre because he's "the third" and his uncle's name is Squirrel...yes, he's from Mississippi

Disco Buddha...the city was also strewn with Tibetan prayer flags as the Dalai Lama was just here...and knowing New Orleans, which isn't terribly buddhist personality-wise (though they do live in the present, so don't take my word for it), these flags will hang for decades like Mardi Gras's just how things go here

Writers and good friends, Emanuel Xavier and Glen Winston James

Otis Fennell, who runs FAB (Faubourg Marigny Books) which supplied all the books for the fair...and his assistant, Tre (again), who boasted this was his 'Jersey Shore' look

Faubourg Marigny Bookstore is a New Orleans's funky like places in SF used to be...I think I have read more times here than almost anywhere (except perhaps Books Inc in SF and Skylight in LA)...I always host an open mike here during the fair so attendees can read a piece....a small way to pay back the amazing reading scene that existed in SF when I was starting out late 80s/early 90s (Paradise Lounge, Cafe DuMond, Elbow Room, Chameleon, Red Doras Bearded Lady, ... I'm leaving tons of them out, but you get the idea)

My friend Alvin Orloff's book on a table in front of FAB

Sven Davisson, publisher of Rebel Satori Press who prints my second editions of Sweet Son of Pan and A Perfect Scar

SM Johnson on left who has published several titles with Rebel Satori and Justin Torres, author of We the Animals

Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence!

I can't say I'm a huge fan of the food in New Orleans, or the constant drinking, so I actually went to Mona Lisa twice (a little Italian place...veggie lasagna and chianti), which is over on the Esplanade edge of the quarter. It also allowed me to indulge in some Mona Lisa sightings.....

This one for Loretta...we are definitely not in Connecticut anymore...and definitely not Waterbury!

The J-man appears at night as a about the shadow of America
(Am now reading David McConnell's American Honor Killings, an important and well-written book about the twisted issue of honor among American males that often leads straight into religious insanity, survivalism, racism, gay bashing and all the attendant ills

Too late to meet this particular character (and fortunately won't have to meet his progeny, or not this batch anyway), but it's New Orleans, so the streets are strewn with such refuse...I tried to stay away from Bourbon St. proper which you know you are getting close to when it starts to get loud and the smell of vomit wafts on the wind....I kid you not, 24-7

But over in the Treme at the Antebellum Guesthouse all was refined and tranquil....there were even echoes of the Cloisters in NYC where the unicorn tapestries depicted here in miniature hang for real in all their glory (see my previous NYC blog)

Keith who has made his vision real...his guesthouse is a true and ongoing work of art...he's a well-known stained glass artist and had a big career in NYC  before burning out on that scene and coming to New Orleans, which he'll never leave (except for maybe Barcelona he tells me). Keith and Art weathered Katrina and stayed put even though the military kept coming by and asking them to leave (they are actually on Esplanade Ridge, which contrary to what that sounds like, actually is completely unnoticeable, but involves those crucial few feet which kept the floodwaters out of their house)..he said the poor folks looted TVs and electronics while the military looted art and the real valuables (this gets little press of course). The soldiers asked them: "Do you have a weapon?" Keith had an antique sword. They actually helped some older folks get out of town, and when people began to return, they cooked and shared meals, etc. Keith said he got a ton of reading done, so there are still forces at work that support literature!
I've come to really admire and like these guys...will miss you two!

Off to New York...