Dominique Ansel Nominated Best Pastry Chef in the World: A Cronut Comeback?

 

Juliette Wipf

Picture by Edmondo Campisi

Who hasn’t heard of the famed 2013 food the Cronut? After quickly gaining worldwide attention, Cronut followers were soon considered frivolous, and the pastry over-hyped. TIME magazine naming the pastry one of the 25 best inventions of the year in 2013, can be a particularly bittersweet pill for us scientists to swallow. However, the fame of this hybrid delicacy is based on the skills of an extraordinary chef, Dominique Ansel, creator of the Cronut, who recently won the title of “Best Pastry Chef in the World,” as part of the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards. Ansel received his training at Fauchon in Paris, a legendary delicatessen company and symbol of French-style luxury. Without having any sort of culinary degree, he started as a seasonal staff member, and ultimately worked himself up to head of Fauchon’s international expansion. In 2005, he settled down in New York City and worked as the executive pastry chef at Daniel, a renowned French restaurant on the corner of 65th Street and Park Avenue. Many ascribe a large part of Daniel’s success to Ansel, who worked at the restaurant when it first received three Michelin stars. He finally opened his own bakery in Soho in 2011, which gained cult status long before the Cronut® hype. Other popular pastry creations by Ansel are the DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann, a Breton puff pastry), Frozen S’mores (ice cream covered in chocolate millefeuille and flamed marshmallow, served on an apple wood-smoked willow branch), the Chocolate Chip Cookie Shot (a shot glass shaped cookie filled with cold-infused vanilla milk, only available after 3 p.m.), the Magic Soufflé (notably the only soufflé that does not collapse, with Grand Mariner liquor and orange blossom), the Gingerbread Pinecone (a layered pastry finished with 70 individual chocolate petals), and the Christmas Morning Cereal (only available in December). You can also choose from more conservative, but similarly beautifully presented pastries on display, or a classic chocolate croissant. My favorite is the Pear & Champagne Mousse Cake.

In case you decide to try a real Cronut, let me give you some advice. Everyday, about 350 Cronuts are made. The flavor of the Cronut changes every month, and is never repeated. Dominique Ansel Bakery opens at 8 a.m., and to secure a Cronut you should arrive before 7:30 a.m. If you are lucky, the bakery will serve you a sweet little appetizer while you are waiting in line. Once you get to the cashier, you can purchase two Cronuts per order. However, you can go back to the end of the line, wait again and purchase two more. If you don’t want to wait in line, you can plan ahead and preorder the pastry online. Every Monday at 11 a.m. sharp, orders are taken for dates two weeks out. You will therefore wait longer for your pastry fix, but are allowed to purchase up to six Cronuts at a time.

Good Luck!

Picture by Juliette Wipf

Picture by Edmondo Campisi

What We Celebrate on 5th of May or Cinco de Mayo

 

Guadalupe Astorga

We can appreciate Mexican culture in the United States like no other place in the world. We have all probably entered a shop in New York City and experienced the magical sensation of being instantaneously transported to Mexico. This is not only because cashiers are Mexicans wearing self-expressive t-shirts, or due to the language they speak, but it’s also the traditional rancheras music they play, and their kindness that immerse us in such an inviting atmosphere.

It’s no coincidence that Mexican culture today is deeply ingrained in the American one. This is not only because parts of the American Southwest belonged to Mexico less than 200 years ago, but also because a large number of Mexicans were incorporated into the US together with that land, bringing their own culture and traditions.

Some people think that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican Independence Day, but it’s not. Independence from Spain was a 10-year process that ended in 1821 and is celebrated on September 16. Shortly after, Mexico was at war with the US, unsuccessfully defending its ownership over Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and California (yes, almost half of current United States land). A treaty was signed in 1848, where Mexico gave up its sovereignty over those territorities.

Years later, driven by the desire of extending the French empire to the Americas, the French army, led by Napoleon, attacked Mexico from the Atlantic coast. Outnumbered three times in size by the French forces, the Mexican army had little chance of success. After taking over several cities, the French advanced towards the Mexican capital, Mexico City. It was in the city of Puebla that Mexican troops defeated the French in the heroic “Battle of Puebla” in 1862. After this, the French army withdrew their forces from the country. This victory unified Mexico and restored a lost sense of nationalism and patriotism.

Although Cinco de Mayo is not a national holiday in Mexico, the states of Puebla and Veracruz have declared it a holiday where people preserve the traditions and celebrations of the day. So why celebrate it in New York City? Maybe it’s due to the important population present in the city who are native to the state of Puebla.

May 5 is a meaningful day for me, not only because important people in my life were born on that date, or because it’s the name of the street where my mom grew up and where I have so many childhood memories, but also because it’s the date that represents the improbable victory of the weak against the powerful.

Isle of Man TT: The Word’s Most Dangerous Race

 

Owen Clark

The spectrum of the “daredevil” has always been somewhat of a curiosity to me, particularly in the world of motorcycles. There are those that wouldn’t go near a bike if you paid them—I’ve met plenty in that category; those that ride, but are content with the confines of commuting; others such as myself, a former 250cc man that recently graduated to the beastly power of an inline-4 900cc engine, toeing the line in the “twisties” every once in a while—this alone might earn me the classification of daredevil” in some eyes (read: my mum); weekend warriors who test themselves even further, laying rubber down on track days; and of course their professional counterparts that push the limits to extremes on the racetrack; but then there are those, known collectively as complete and utter lunatics, who race motorcycles at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour on tiny country roads lined with dry stone walls, telegraph poles, curbs, houses, and a whole host of other hazards, in the oldest, most dangerous race in the world—The Isle of Man TT.

The Isle of Man TT Festival—TT stands for “Tourist Trophy”, or more colloquially “titanium ____ “ (I’ll let you fill in the blank) —takes place once a year during late May/early June, with a week of practice sessions followed by a week of individual races—culminating in the blue riband event, the senior TT. It has been in existence since 1907, though the current Snaefell Mountain course wasn’t devised until 1911. It’s 37.73 miles run entirely on the Isle of Man’s public roads (closed during racing of course), through tiny villages, hedge-lined country lanes, and a mountain. It contains a staggering 265 corners, said to require at least three years of competitive racing to learn, where six laps amount to 226.5 miles of unflinching mental steel. The races consist of a time trial format, with riders competing as much against the course as the competition. Northern Irishman Michael Dunlop holds the honor of the fastest lap on record, taking just under seventeen minutes to complete the course at a jaw-dropping 133.962 MPH average speed last year. Kiwi Bruce Antsey achieved the unofficial record top speed of 206 MPH during practice. Eighty percent of the race is done at full throttle, which I can tell you as a biker, seems utterly unfathomable. Just watching an on board lap is enough to make you nauseous.

Often considered more infamous than famous, it has a reputation for its unparalleled danger. The mountain course has claimed 251 fatalities to date, with five deaths occurring just last year. Colorful character that he is, mutton-chopped racer/truck mechanic/TV personality Guy Martin refers to “that near-death thing” as the raison d’etre of racing in the TT. On a 2010 crash that almost claimed his life— “The buzz from that was just unbeatable. That moment between crashing and almost dying. That’s raised the benchmark. I want to get back to that point. Money can’t buy it. Everything’s been so sanitised with bloody PC nonsense and health and safety that there’s nothing else is there? If it was dead safe I wouldn’t do it.” To others, this seemingly senseless loss of life provokes a rallying cry for banning the TT entirely. Indeed, safety concerns were a major factor in the race losing its world championship status in 1976.

If I’ve managed to pique your interest at this point, I would urge you to seek out the fascinating 2011 documentary TT3D: Closer To The Edge (the full movie is available on YouTube), or even better go one step further and read Rick Broadbent’s excellent book That Near Death Thing (which takes its name from Guy Martin’s quote). Even to those with little interest in motorcycle racing, it’s hard to deny the fascinating psychology at play here. Gaining a glimpse into what makes road racers risk life and limb for relatively little reward—through early footage of their childhood and interviews with both family members, those involved in the race, and the riders themselves, is a captivating experience. The supporting cast offers an engaging insight as to how people cope with the obvious elephant in the room, balancing the compulsion to race with the threat of death. We hear from the mechanic responsible for fine-tuning all of the top bikes’ engines, and the sense of guilt he feels, likening himself to a drug dealer supplying the fix that might ultimately end a rider’s life. There’s also a compelling interview with Bridget Dobbs, widowed after the death of her husband Paul Dobbs in the 2010 TT. Though left to raise their two children alone, she harbors an amazing resilience in knowing that Paul died doing what he loved, as to those in and around the TT, life is there to be lived, no matter what the risk.

Then there’s the main cast, a veritable band of misfits with a unifying compulsion to race, despite the inherent dangers. There’s stalwart talisman John McGuiness, whose un-athletic figure masks an exceptional talent that’s led him to a remarkable 23 TT wins, just three shy of the record held by the legendary Joey Dunlop. There’s Michael Dunlop—nephew of Joey, whose brother William (son of Joey) also races in the TT. Michael’s practically psychopathic racing instinct has brought him much success and notoriety in recent years, and the Dunlop family were the subject of the 2014 documentary Road, narrated by Liam Neeson. Joey, known as much for his humanitarian work in the Balkans as for his gifts on two wheels, was tragically killed in a little-known road race in Estonia at the age of 48—paying the ultimate price for his steadfast refusal to hang up his leathers for good. His brother Robert (Michael’s father) was killed racing eight years later, and remarkably, a 20-year-old Michael raced and won the TT’s warm up event—The Northwest 200—just two days after burying his father. There’s soft-spoken Yorkshireman Ian Hutchinson—who recovered from nearly losing his leg after being run over by another racer in a closed-circuit race early on in his career, to eventually go on to achieve an unprecedented five wins at the 2010 TT. There’s local boy Connor Cummins, who survived a now infamous crash that left him looking like the Wiley Coyote in a full body cast, only to fully recover and compete in the TT the very next year. In truly legendary fashion, both of these men were told by doctors that they would never race again. Then of course there’s the resident controversy-magnet Guy Martin, whose trademark lack of filter, delivered through a nearly indecipherable Lincolnshire accent, has landed him a legion of fans, but sadly no TT wins so far.

Hollywood is said to be capitalizing on the capacity for epic drama that exists on the Isle of Man, with a Ben Younger (Boiler Room, Bleed for This)–produced movie in the works, rumored to be centering on an American that comes out of retirement to race in the TT. If you replace “American” with “Canadian”, and “comes out of retirement” with “gives up everything to live on the island and race in the TT,” then this story slightly resembles the true-life tale of Mark Gardiner, who wrote about his experience ticking off the pinnacle of the biker’s bucket list in his 2012 book Riding Man.

All that being said, the 2017 Isle of Man TT is fast approaching, with all the potential for a cracking set of races. As with many of the more niche sporting events, television coverage in the US leaves a bit to be desired. Despite a viewership of 30 million people worldwide, to my knowledge none of the practice sessions/races will be available for live viewing on a US TV network. However with a VPN you can access UK channel ITV’s coverage from their on-demand service. and YouTube has a dedicated channel that provides highlights of some of the races. Sharing five wins between them in 2016, Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson are the men to beat, but after a year lay-off, the return of Guy Martin in search of his maiden win will add some tantalizing drama to the mix. No matter how the races play out, you can bet good money that the TT will never be short on excitement.

Culture Corner: On the 50th Anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s

 

Bernie Langs

Detail of the elusive back cover of Sgt. Pepper’s with lyrics and The Beatles in full costume

Late 20th century philosophy took a longwinded detour from practical thought with its micro-analysis on the importance of the structure of language, but there is one idea that emerged that I find of great interest. It is the notion that once an author writes a work of literature and publishes it for a wide array of readers, in some manner the writer relinquishes his or her rights as the sole proprietor of the work. Since the reader is drawing from their own experiences, what is created in their minds brings whole new meanings, imaginations, and so on beyond the control of the original author’s intention.

Along those lines, I would suggest that after The Beatles (George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and John Lennon) laid down the instrumentation and vocals for the songs on the 1967 masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with George Martin producing and scoring the orchestral charts and Geoff Emerick at the helm as engineer, the meaning of the work was passed on to their multitude of listeners as individuals. What follows here is a song-by-song analysis of my personal notion of Sgt. Pepper’s.

The LP opens to the sounds of a mulling crowd outdoors, awaiting the stage appearance of a good-time band, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A distant, surreal wave of an accordion invites the listener to join the pleasant afternoon outing. After the misery of touring and the madness of Beatlemania, McCartney devised the concept of Sgt. Pepper’s as a Beatles’ alter-ego group, who would perform the album. The famous first lines, “It was twenty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play,” nods to an imagined, sweet nostalgia. The guitars are on the heavy side and Martin introduces the first break with bold horns as the crowd elicits a peal of laughter to some antic on the bandshell they are witnessing.

McCartney enthusiastically tells us in his vocalization about what we will be hearing in the “live performance” to follow, and sends the cheering crowd off to listen to singer, “Billy Shears.” We’re seamlessly led next to the quieter studio sound of Starr singing With a Little Help from My Friends. The acoustics and overall sound of Pepper’s is immediately discovered to be new for The Beatles. The mature period of the band began with its two previous albums, Rubber Soul and Revolver, each boasting revolutionary songwriting and production, but still maintaining a loose feel in sections. Pepper’s, on the other hand, is musically and sonically perfect and The Beatles sang or played take after take to make sure it would be so. It’s incredibly cleanly produced and also very tightly bound, as if the band knew their efforts would be examined and listened to for many decades. This near sterility contrasts sharply with The Beatle’s swan song, Abbey Road. that is also technically perfect but very warm in production.

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Life on a Roll

 

Wuhan University

Qiong Wang

Picture by June Wang

Wuhan University, founded in 1893, is regarded as one of the most beautiful university campuses in China. Set by the peaceful East Lake, surrounding the Luojia Mountain, the campus spreads over 900 acres in the city of Wuhan, China. The palatial buildings of the university, blending Chinese and Western styles, have witnessed over 100 years of Chinese contemporary history. Many extraordinary scholars studied, worked and fought there, leaving their individual marks on the walls and floors. Walking on the rooftop of the historical dormitory building, and looking at the golden sunset beneath the flying roof-edge, I can’t help but feel proud of the land where I had spent four years of my life.

Spring has finally arrived, and it’s that time of the year again. Even from across the hemisphere, I can just imagine the rumbustious scene of thousands of visitors pouring into the campus for the cherry blossom spectacular.

Life on a Roll

Pretty Old Carved Stones in France

Elodie Pauwels

https://elodiepphoto.wordpress.com

 

Don’t you like to observe the details of finely carved stones and try to feel the history behind it? Here are a few examples of those that I liked the most: the year of construction of a chimney in a modest house in a village in Corrèze, the shell-shaped motif on both sides of a door in a street of Beaune, and my favorite: a pretty young girl with braided hair on the tombstone of Philibert II, Duke of Savoy, in the Royal Monastery of Brou.

Quotable Quote

 

“Why are we suddenly a nation and a people who strive for security above all else? In fact, security is essentially elusive, impossible. We all die. We all get sick. We all get old. People leave us. People surprise us. People change us. Nothing is secure. And this is the good news. But only if you are not seeking security as the point of your life. Here’s what happens when security becomes the center of your life. You can’t travel very far or venture too far outside a certain circle. You can’t allow too many conflicting ideas into your mind at one time as they might confuse you or challenge you. You can’t open yourself to new experiences, new people, and new ways of doing things. They might take you off course. You cling desperately to your identity… Real security cannot be bought or arranged or accomplished with bombs. It is deeper. It is a process. It is the acute awareness that we are all utterly interdependent and that one action by one being in one town has consequences everywhere. Real security is the ability to tolerate mystery, complexity, ambiguity—indeed hungering for these things.”

(Eve Ensler, 1953 – )

New York State Of Mind

Guadalupe Astorga

This month Natural Selections interviews Alicia Galicia. Conference dining/ catering, RU.

How long have you been living in the New York area? 

I’ve been living in NYC for 28 years.

Where do you currently live?  Which is your favorite neighborhood?

I live in Astoria and I love it, so Astoria is my favorite neighborhood.

What do you think is the most overrated thing in the city? And underrated? 

Most overrated in NYC I think is Time Square, nobody visiting the city misses it. Underrated, St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue. It’s a beautiful place to go, and pray and find yourself. For some people it may not be important in the way it is for me.

 What do you miss most when you are out of town? 

I miss the transportation. It’s so easy to move from one place to another in NYC. In other places like Chicago is much harder.

Has anything (negative or positive) changed about you since you became one of us “New Yorkers”?

I’ve changed in different aspects. I’m from Mexico and life there is harder. I feel that everything is possible in NYC if you pursue it. My first challenge was to learn English and I’m still trying to improve.

If you could change one thing about NYC, what would that be?

The subway service. I feel we’re paying more each time more, but the quality is decreasing. The trains are slower and waiting times are longer.

What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?

I like to go to Central Park with my kids, they like to climb rocks and visit the zoo there. It’s a lot of fun for them to feed the cows and goats.

 What is the most memorable experience you have had in NYC?  

I came to work for a short time at Rockefeller and they liked my work, so they hired me. Since the first day I loved this place. I’ve been here for 21 years and I love the ambience, talking with professors, students and doctors. It’s a beautiful place to work and one of the best things that has happened in my life.

Bike, MTA or WALK IT???

I use the MTA because I don’t have enough space in my house for bikes.

If you could live anywhere else, where [would] might that be? 

I would like to go back to the country I’m from, but it’s hard. I love NYC, the city that never sleeps. You have 24-hour stores, movies, and much more.

Do you think of yourself as a New Yorker?

Yeah, I feel part of NYC because I’ve been living here for 28 years and I’ve learned many things. Unfortunately, I was not lucky in my relationship, but I always teach my kids and myself to pursue your goals.

New York City Dialect New York-ese, Lesson 6

Aileen Marshall

Hey! Welcome to the sixth and last lesson in our series on the New York City dialect. By now you should be able to understand the natives well enough to ask for subway directions (which also makes it obvious that you are a tourist). Don’t worry about being able to understand the announcements in the subway, no one can understand them.

To review last month’s lesson, a number of words in the city dialect drop the “H” in words that start with that letter. The two examples are ‘uge and ‘uman. Here are some more examples of them used in a sentence.

  • Katz’s Deli sandwiches have a ‘uge pile of cold cuts between two slices of bread.
  • Sometimes Grand Central Station can seem like a sea of ‘umanity.

This month’s lesson:

The New York dialect is known for two qualities: we speak very fast and tend to blur our words together. So much so, that phrases, and even entire sentences, can seem like one word. Life in the city is fast paced, so we don’t have time to even wait for the next word. Here are some examples of words in the New York dialect. Click on the links to hear the pronunciation.

  • Amirite A word used at the end of sentence, asking for confirmation.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a Broadway play, amirite?

  • Fugedaboudit. A word used to express resignation or forgiveness.

You can’t drive anywhere in the city on a Sunday afternoon, fugedaboudit, the traffic is too much.

  • Gedoutahea A word used to express surprise or disbelief.

You got a rent controlled apartment in Chelsea for $700 a month? Getoudahea!

  • Ariteaready A word used to express annoyance at being pushed or hurried.

I’m moving, aritearedy, I just double parked for a minute!

Final exam: see if you can interpret this conversation between two natives.

First Guy “jeetyet?” Second Guy “No, jew?”

I hope you have enjoyed these lessons in the New York City dialect. Listening to conversations among locals is the best way to tune your ear in to the pronunciation. It’s also a great way to learn about and experience what this great city has to offer. Don’t forget there are five boroughs in the city, it’s not just Manhattan. There is a wealth of culture, cuisine and entertainment to explore. So many people come here every year to visit or to stay. Not only is the United Nations headquarters here, but there are over 100 different ethnicities in the city’s population, that’s why they call the city “The Capital of the World”.

Answer:

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Culture Corner

Bernie Langs / NATURAL SELECTIONS Red-figure stamnos depicting Chiron, Nereus and Nereids, attributed to the Berlin Painter, ca. 480-470 B.C., Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek, Munich (photo: BL)

Art review: “The Berlin Painter and His World: Athenian Vase Painting in the Early Fifth Century B.C.”; Princeton Art Museum, March 4 – June 11, 2017

Bernie Langs

There are certain types of art exhibits that are more difficult to take in than others. I have always found, for example, that illuminated manuscript displays require a very tiring amount of concentration, though the effort is well worth the wonder evoked. Exhibitions of sculpture, unless of ancient pieces, and drawings (excluding those from the Renaissance) require a great deal of disciplined looking to garner the rewards of understanding.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, I would often visit exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and explore the permanent collection at length. At times, I’d be the only person lost in The Met’s side rooms displaying a huge inventory of ancient Greek vases, drinking cups, oil vessels, etc. There were cases and cases of them, many works graced by explanations written on typewriters indicating years of neglect and lack of attention. A few years ago, that all changed. The prize vases are now on glorious and ordered display, dozens of smaller, “lesser” works are upstairs from the main floor of the Leon Levy and Shelby White Court in a large, new repository and massive “study” space of ancient treasures that draw only a few curious, and, at times, quite knowledgeable viewers.

“The Berlin Painter and His World: Athenian Vase-Painting in the Early Fifth Century B.C.” at the Princeton Art Museum (March 4 – June 11, 2017) is a rare kind of exhibition. I can’t recall a major museum show featuring ancient Greek vases, let alone one centering around the works of an individual artist from this obscure period when attributions are hard to come by. I had no idea what I’d find when I drove out to Princeton on a March morning, but I had high hopes that the illustrious Ivy League institution would do the subject justice.

The magnificent exhibit is the fruit of decades of study on individual hands that can be catalogued from the time around 500 B.C. and later. Sir John D. Beazley (1885 – 1970) is noted by the curators as the first scholar who began cataloging vases to individual painters and The Berlin Painter is one of those who left no signature, but surely a recognizable and signature style. When one is dealing with the subject of actual artists from the Golden Age of Greek art and beyond, those of us who love art history are in awe of the mere mention of a sculptor, such as Praxiteles (4th century BC), or Apelles, a painter also of the Hellenistic Period. There are no remains of either of their outputs, but many “copies” and much speculation about what they produced and just what their works may have looked like. Apelles was legendary even in the days of Julius Caesar and inspired the Renaissance artist Botticelli to attempt to recreate one of the artist’s most famous works from antiquity (“The Calumny of Apelles”).

At the Princeton show, one easily finds a name, a style, and the hand of an exemplary artist. The various figures depicted on the vases in “red figure” style are elegant, smooth, and represent everything from mythical beings, to gods, athletes, fantastic beasts, wrestlers in repose, and so on, all adorned in smooth, simple, flowing chitons and draperies. There are swords and war, there are mystic offerings, there is Herakles undertaking his many tests, trials and tribulations, and there is the life and leisure of the ancients. One’s eyes widen in wonder at what is in the display cases.

Bernie Langs / NATURAL SELECTIONS Princeton Art Museum – second of two galleries for The Berlin Painter exhibition.

The exhibit’s explanations are concise and very much on point, giving everything from historical context to notes on how one creates these pieces of pottery. The placards for each vase were also spot on, and I never found myself reading and drifting off to mutter “that’s a lot of words” which I often do. There was one very beautiful wine vessel that the museum noted was found completely intact. Most vases are pieced together from fragments, and in this exhibition, the viewer is blessed that most of the vessels displayed were not broken up too badly when they were found in either The Berlin Painter’s home area of Athens or in Etruscan Italy, an export destination. I can’t recall ever previously viewing a major Attic Red-figure vase that was found entirely in one piece, as if it was fresh from production and presented for use that very day in New Jersey.

When I was done visiting the galleries of the exhibition, I took in sections of the museum’s permanent collection and out of nowhere, I raced back to view The Berlin Painter with fresh eyes. I now knew how to approach it, and how to see it. On this second go-around, spending time with only the top pieces, they truly came to life and felt more vital and immediate to me. Cicero has a book called “On the Nature of the Gods” and the stamnos depicting Chiron, Nereus and Nereids (see photo) truly reflected The Berlin Painter’s notion of the cosmography by which he was bound by in space and historical time. By believing one could, for a moment, see the graceful mythic beings through his eyes, the cosmic dance commences, and it really is quite a show.

Autism Awareness

Guadalupe Astorga

April is National Autism Awareness Month. April 2 is a day meant to create consciousness, tolerance and acceptance of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A better inclusion in society is essential to increase their quality of life and expectations.

Autism spectrum disorder encompasses a vast range of behaviors, genetic mutations and neurophysiological conditions. For this reason, it is difficult to find common traits that unanimously describe people with ASD.

It is well known that those with autism have a different perception of the world. They have a strong sensitivity to sensorial stimulus, such as light and sound, that is mild for most people. As these stimuli can be extremely disturbing for people with ASD, they may consequently avoid them with behaviors that appear incomprehensible from the outside. However, it is a natural reflex in all living beings to elude harmful stimuli, it is probably one of the adaptive behaviors that enabled us to survive on earth. How different would these behaviors appear if we were all aware of the reason behind them? Were that the case, we would probably support them instead of meeting them with a frightened expression. It is therefore crucial to generate awareness in society about the sensorial hypersensitivity of people with autism in order to integrate and accept them, instead of excluding them due to ignorance.

There are also notable differences in people with ASD in their ability to localize their attention on single tasks. While it is generally challenging to captivate their attention with things they don’t find interesting, once something has caught their attention they can spend long periods of time focusing on such activities. A great example of this is the number of outstanding artists and musicians with ASD. An open question for scientists and physicians is whether this ability to focus on one thing at a time is also related to their social withdrawal. Understanding the brain circuits required to localize attention as well as those required to establish social interactions and empathy with other people is certainly essential to developing therapies to integrate people with ASD into society. However, understanding and societal acceptance is also crucial to reduce their social withdrawal.

A rather worrisome subject concerns the general panic originated almost twenty years ago about a possible relation between autism and vaccines, in particular the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. This controversy was originated by a biomedical research article that intended to show that this vaccine caused several behavioral and physiological disorders, including autism. However, strong irregularities during data collection and analysis were found in this work, and it had to be retracted by the authors after no other group could reproduce the results. Extensive research in the past fifteen years demonstrated that there is no evidence for a relationship between vaccines (including ingredients present in them) and autism. Unfortunately, the unfounded belief that vaccines can cause autism continued to grow and spread around the world causing a large number of parents to stop vaccinating their children. This leaves both children and adults vulnerable to severe complications including pneumonia, encephalitis, blindness, diarrhea, ear infections, paralysis, and death.

As vaccine-preventable diseases are nowadays rarely found in several countries, one may think that they have already been eradicated. However, the infectious agents that cause them are still present in some parts of the world and can easily spread and infect anyone who is not immunized. This has already lead to significant measles outbreaks in unvaccinated populations in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom as well as the United States. This could have easily been prevented by vaccination. We cannot go backwards in history and waste years of medical and scientific advances. The risk of not taking vaccines far surpasses that of taking them. It depends on us to make responsible and informed decisions about vaccination in order to protect ourselves as well as those around us.

Iamge Courtesy of Autism Society of America

An Italian Easter

La Colomba (the Dove) is the traditional Easter cake in Italy. iStock by GETTY IMAGES

Francesca Cavallo

Easter brings to mind egg hunts, chocolate, jelly beans, and the Easter bunny.

In Christianity, Easter is the holiest and oldest of all traditions, and it’s related to the even more ancient Jewish festival of Passover, which is described in the Old Testament. Both holidays are often celebrated at the same time of year, in the same week. Passover takes place over one week in remembrance of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. For Christians, Easter commemorates the resurrection of Christ after his crucifixion.

Many things about Easter are neither Jewish nor Christian in origin. For example, the English name “Easter” and the German name “Ostern” are both derived from old Germanic roots. Also, the traditions of having an Easter eve bonfire or burning Easter wheels come from Germanic and Celtic heliolatry, or sun worship. Even the popular colorful Easter egg has its origins in another pagan belief: it was considered a symbol of fertility in Egypt.

Today, eggs are synonymous with Easter in many countries, including Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. At the end of Lent, hard-boiled eggs are colored, Easter trees or bouquets are decorated with little wooden figurines and hollowed-out painted eggs, and people buy or bake special sweet Easter breads, often bursting with raisins.

But how is Easter viewed and celebrated in Italy? There is an Italian proverb which says: ‘Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi (Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you wish), which illustrates the fact that Pasqua (Easter) is considered a less intimate festival than Christmas. You probably won’t see the Easter bunny if you’re in Italy for Easter, but you will find some interesting Italian Easter celebrations. Like all holidays in Italy, Easter has its share of rituals and traditions. The Monday following Easter, la Pasquetta is also a public holiday throughout Italy. While the days before Easter in Italy include solemn processions and masses, Easter is a joyous celebration.

Easter mass is held in every church in Italy, and the biggest and most popular Mass is held by the Pope at Saint Peter’s Basilica. On Good Friday, the Pope celebrates the Via Crucis or Stations of the Cross in Rome near the Colosseum. A huge cross with burning torches lights the sky as the stations of the cross are described in several languages. At the end, the Pope gives a blessing. Solemn religious processions are held in many towns on the Friday or Saturday before Easter and sometimes on Easter Sunday. Many churches have special statues of the Virgin and Jesus that play a big part in the processions. The statues may be paraded through the city or displayed in the main square. Parade participants are often dressed in traditional ancient costumes. Olive branches are often used instead of, or along with, palm fronds in the processions and to decorate churches.

Since Easter is the end of the Lenten season, food plays a big part in the celebrations. Normally we spend Domenica di Pasqua (Easter Sunday) with the family, engaged in the traditional act of stuffing ourselves with food, such as roasted lamb or kid, hard boiled eggs, which have been taken to church to be blessed at the end of the Mass, and of course chocolate eggs. The traditional Easter cake is la Colomba (the Dove), a cake similar in flavor and consistency to the Christmas cake Panettone, but baked in the form of a stylized dove.

It’s studded with candied orange peel, then topped with almonds and a sprinkling of sugar to form a crisp, nutty crust.

Numerous myths surround the Colomba cake. According to one particularly dramatic story, the city of Milan was defending itself against invaders on Easter in 1176. Just when the Milanese seemed destined to lose the battle, three doves flew over the city. Soon after, the battle shifted and the invaders were vanquished. Legend holds that after the victory, the Milanese celebrated by eating cakes shaped like their savior doves.

Although Italians do not decorate hard–boiled eggs nor have chocolate bunnies, nor pastel marshmallow chicks, the biggest Easter displays in bars, pastry shops, supermarkets, and especially at chocolatiers are brightly wrapped uova di Pasqua (chocolate Easter eggs) in sizes that range from 10 grams (1/3 ounce) to 8 kilos (nearly 18 pounds).

Most of them are made of milk chocolate in a mid-range, 10-ounce size by industrial chocolate makers.

All eggs contain a surprise. The very best eggs are handmade by artisans of chocolate, who offer the service of inserting a surprise supplied by the purchaser. Car keys, engagement rings, and watches are some of the high–end gifts that have been tucked into Italian chocolate eggs in Italy.

Another traditional Easter dessert that’s popular in Naples and southern Italy is pastiera, a ricotta and whole grain pie with a mouthwatering aroma so distinctive that any blindfolded Neapolitan could instantly identify it. Pastiera is considered by many to be one of Italy’s most important desserts. It is prepared in special pans, whose edges angle slightly outward. The pie is often given away as a gift and always in the pan it was baked in because of its fragile pastry. The pie needs to rest for two days for the flavors to meld, so it’s traditionally finished on Good Friday so that it will be ready for Easter. Pastiera has become so popular that it is now available year-round in Naples.

The day following Domenica di Pasqua is Lunedi’ di Pasqua (Easter Monday), better known as Pasquetta (Little Easter) or LunedidellAngelo (Monday of the Angel). The name Lunedi’ dellAngelo refers to the Gospel story in which the women who went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body the day after Easter were told by an angel that Jesus had been resurrected. This day is probably the most popular part of the festivities for Italians, and it’s traditional to celebrate Pasquetta with a “gita fuori porta“ (a trip outside the city gates), usually for a picnic with friends. One interpretation of this tradition comes, once again, from a Gospel story which recounts that on the day of the resurrection, Jesus appeared to two disciples who were travelling to Emmaus a few kilometers outside the city gates of Jerusalem. The gita fuori porta tradition could be seen as a kind of “re-enactment“ of this story, although like many traditions most people are not really aware of its origins. A way to spend the gita fuori porta is a visit to a small historical town. Many of these towns will hold an event, such as an antique market, and will be packed with tourists. Whatever is done for Pasquetta, the deciding factor is, of course, the weather: everybody always hopes for a beautiful sunny warm day.

I wish to everybody a peaceful and happy Easter. Buona Pasqua a tutti!

The Golden Age of Hip Hop on the Silver Screen

Owen Clark

The Get Down’s Shaolin Fantastic learns the ropes from Grand Master Flash.

Hip hop is dead. I can’t exactly recall the point at which I first heard this phrase, but it seems to be etched in my earliest memories of acquainting myself with rap music, and all of its accompanying baggage. Undoubtedly, journalistic decries of the death of entire genres of music, sports, or really anything entertainment related, have become tiresome clichés. Jazz is dead; boxing is dead; this writer’s short-lived career is dead—frankly these assertions are as banal as they are dubious. However, the only upshot of such a declaration is that it often elicits a thoughtful discourse as to how we reached this supposed nadir, and the state of things to come.

Let me just say from the outset, if you’re looking for a detailed analysis on the current state of hip hop music, you can stop reading. I’m far from an expert on the subject, and in all honesty, I detest the critic culture that currently dominates internet journalism. However, like many others, I share an affinity for rap, and see it as having a fairly unique origin and evolution that will always fascinate me. If I may be so bold, I will say that my introduction to rap music probably occurred before the standard age of the nerdy, white, middle-class demographic that I belong to. I was nine or ten when I purchased my first rap album, It Was Written—Nas’s sophomore studio offering, and follow up to the highly acclaimed Illmatic. I’m possibly stretching the truth for the sake of my ‘rep’; I definitely possess several of Shaquille O’Neil’s critically-lauded singles in my old CD rack, so who can say which came first, but let’s just say I started listening around the time that those black and white ‘parental advisory’ stickers started appearing on CDs—great job Tipper Gore, you really deterred our interest. This isn’t some sort of brag; had my sister not attended Abbeydale Grange, Sheffield’s version of Dangerous Minds, I might have been listening to the same Spice Girls CDs as my peers, but I think it led me to buy into the idea that post-gangsta rap music just wasn’t worth my time.

Flash-forward to the present, rap is certainly alive and well. Summer sixteen (the summer, not the album) was about the time I realized that the genre is to some extent semi-unrecognizable from the rap I know and love. That August, my former roommate/current friend and I attended a Lil Dicky show in Manhattan. For those of you that don’t know, Lil Dicky is a technically flawless, comedy-focused rapper, whose ingenious parodies effectively spell out all of rap’s shortcomings. The venue reeked of weed and was populated almost exclusively by teenagers (the most frightening demographic). Lil Dicky preceded Lil Yachty (why are rappers always diminutive?), who at the time I hadn’t even heard of—but that man, with his braids so bright, managed to whip the crowd of vape-high/Bud Light-drunk teenyboppers into a frenzied state. I stood back, terrified, but also intrigued. The next day, I perused Lil Yachty’s tracks on Spotify, from the safety of my living room, and came to the realization that his particular style of drawling, atonal, syncopated rap-talking, in essence exemplified the current movement in hip hop that somehow emerged right under my nose.

Accepting that you’re no longer ‘down with the kids’ can be a tough pill to swallow. But for me it came at a time when I happened to notice an uptick in the appearance of documentaries/dramatic portrayals exploring the early origins and development of hip hop music. This might be a slightly tangential straw at which I’m grasping at, but this speaks to me as a collective acceptance, that rap has in a way, come full circle. Maybe not in the true sense of that phrase, but what I mean is we’ve reached the point where we can sit back (‘with a Buddha sack’) and wax lyrical about the earlier days of the music, with a sense of nostalgia that only comes with firm, mainstream, establishment; and some current, unfamiliar deviation from our perceived norm. So with that muddled sentiment in mind, I will end this long-winded introduction and briefly review some of these excellent offerings.

Hip Hop Evolution

Originally airing on HBO, and currently streaming on both HBO and Netflix, this four-part documentary follows Canadian rapper Shadrach Kabango (stage name Shad) on a musical pilgrimage to discover hip hop’s origins in the crime-stricken streets of 1970s South Bronx, and trace key developments throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, as the genre took new and exciting directions, and garnered mainstream success. Shad takes us on a fascinating journey, revealing remarkable insights that are accompanied by a plethora of interviews with key figures in the rap community, both past and present.

The show explores crucial innovations in hip hop, beginning with the founder himself, DJ Kool Herc, and his ‘merry-go-round’ idea of using side-by-side turntables playing the same (or similar) record, in order to elongate rhythmic drum beats in soul and funk tracks—known as break beats—at legendary parties in the recreation room of the Bronx project he called home. Herc would punctuate these breaks with rhyming slang phrases, normally delivered through an Echoplex delay, and thus hip hop was born. We see how some of the originating icons built on the methods of others to finesse early hip hop—Grand Master Flash’s ingenious technique for identifying the precise location of break beats; Melle Mel’s use of rap to bring awareness to the social strife experienced in the woefully deprived communities of inner city America, in the timeless classic The Message; Run-DMC’s at the time startling decision to drop the instrumental samples and rap purely over beats; Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin’s savvy entrepreneurial strategy that turned rap into a multi-million dollar business, and took hip hop center stage with acts like LL Cool J and The Beastie Boys. The final episode explores the genres infiltration into West Coast circles, and how the crack epidemic, police brutality, and rising gang warfare on the streets of LA engendered the gangsta rap that came to dominate the 90s.

There’s a thought-provoking scene in the short-lived and divisive HBO drama Vinyl, in which we see a presumed DJ Cool Herc—honing his craft by spinning funk records side by side to create break loops—maligned by the elders and their calls to ‘let the record play man!’ This perfectly illustrates the salient message of Hip Hop Evolution, that these developments were not simply step-by-step progressions on a clear-cut path, but truly imaginative innovations that exceeded against all odds. There’s also a theme here that pervades throughout Vinyl, of betting on the wrong horse—whether it be record company execs or the general public. When Hip Hop Evolution details Run DMC’s 1986 collaboration with Aerosmith on Walk This Way, we’re reminded that throughout its early history, hip hop was often scoffed at as a passing fad that would never materialize into mainstream success. For a hip hop group to collaborate with a larger than life rock band was actually a huge deal at the time. What’s even more remarkable is that some twenty years on, it’s actually hip hop that is unquestionably the more dominant mainstream genre, and rock is unfortunately falling by the way side.

The Get Down

Although The Get Down was produced completely independently of Hip Hop Evolution, in many ways it serves as the perfect companion piece. This six-part Netflix-original drama, which takes its name from the slang term for those gold dust-like break beats, follows a group of teenagers as they navigate the burning Bronx of the late 1970s—struggling to steer clear of the street gangs, rising crime, and political corruption that blighted the city, while establishing a hip hop crew mighty enough to topple the throne of Grand Master Flash. Although co-creator Baz Luhrmann’s trademark style of production provides a brightly colored, comic book feel; the show weaves a captivating narrative—perfectly illuminating the key developments of the 70s hip hop scene described in Hip Hop Evolution, with a dramatic spin. We’re treated to scenes like Grandmaster Flash sending his protégé Shaolin Fantastic, on a dangerous race against The Savage Warlord street gang, to retrieve a rare copy of a record to sample (which was a huge part of gaining an edge for early DJs). We see the inside of one of DJ Cool Herc’s aforementioned parties (also depicted in Vinyl), in a hunt for a mystery bootlegger—a key feature of the dissemination of early hip hop tracks; and we get a glimpse of what life was like for kids whose playgrounds were the burnt down tenement buildings and abandoned lots around the South Bronx’s Charlotte Street.

The show does a great job of using fictional portrayals to educate viewers about key events that changed the course of hip hop, such as Grand Master Flash handing Shaolin Fantastic nothing more than a purple crayon to impart the lesson of creating break loops (see if you can figure it out). However, the standout highlight is the depiction of the 1977 New York blackout, when an electrical fault caused the entire city to lose power for an entire night and day, during a brutal July heat wave. While this event will forever be remembered as a shocking display of carnage—where mass looting and rioting saw some 1,600 stores damaged, with over 1,000 fires, leading to almost 4,000 arrests—it served as a crucial facilitator in the development of hip hop, where stolen DJ equipment tripled the number of functional hip hop crews overnight. The blackout was of course covered in Hip Hop Evolution, but gaining some perspective on what it was actually like to live through, gives the show a touch of magical realism, reminiscent of another Netflix original, Narcos, in which as a viewer you’re frequently brought to disbelief, questioning whether these seemingly bizarre events actually happened. The producers also do a great job of splicing in period footage to solidify pertinent scenes.

One of the reasons why I call New York home is its riveting history, particularly the 70s and 80s, where soaring crime rates and near-bankruptcy led parts of the city to resemble a dystopian war zone. I’ve read books on the subject, and watched myriad YouTube videos cataloging the widespread arson that leveled the Bronx in particular (where my mother grew up in the 40s and 50s), but until now I’ve had to make do with The Warriors as the closest thing to a historical portrayal of this captivating period. The Get Down fills an obvious void, and manages to tie multiple developments together such as graffiti artistry, disco music, breakdancing, and Ed Koch’s mayoral campaign, over six hour-long episodes, while maintaining a compelling story.

Time Is Illmatic

This was always going to be a winner for me. In my humblest of humble opinions, I can say without any shadow of a doubt that Nas’s 1994 debut album Illmatic is the greatest rap album of all time. This record is to hip hop, what Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue is to jazz, somehow managing to effectively distill the beauty of all that preceded it, while blazing a new and exciting path. The intro on the albums first musical track, NY State of Mind, still gives me chills. With its triplet swing-style rhythm on drums; the crescendo of the blues scale-derived riff played on upright bass; and the piano, peppering the bass line with an offbeat altered chord—the track lays a groove deeply rooted in jazz, that sets the scene for Nas’s hilariously self-depreciating ‘I don’t even know how to start this,’ prior to dropping one of the greatest verses in the history of rap. Spoiler alert—Time Is Illmatic ends with Nas spitting this verse to headphone monitors in the studio, contextualizing its brilliance. While I haven’t always been so opinionated on the matter, I think the fact that twenty-five years after its debut, holding the title of the only rap album that I periodically come back to time and time again, without skipping a single track, is testament to its preeminence.

Time is Illmatic (which viewers can watch via streaming on Amazon Prime) expertly intertwines Nas’s early life growing up on the streets of Queensbridge (in America’s largest public housing project) with the production of Illmatic—weaving a complex story of personal strife that sowed the seeds for a precocious 21-year-old Nas to produce this iconic masterpiece. For me, what sets the album apart from other classics is the coupling of musicality—jazz-derived rhythmic grooves that permeate through every track; with deeply poetic storytelling—a tradition firmly rooted in the country blues music of the early 20th century, of which Nas has unquestionably mastered. With this in mind, it’s particularly interesting to explore Nas’s relationship with his father, a Mississippi-born jazz musician (who actually makes a cameo playing cornet on the outro of the album’s third track), and to see an in-depth examination of the production of these tracks. I kind of see myself as a slightly better looking version of Ryan Gosling’s Seb in the film La La Land—I genuinely hold the opinion that if you don’t at least somewhat appreciate jazz and blues music, then you don’t deserve to listen to rap or rock. Thus, I feel somewhat validated by this aspect of the documentary. It also really highlights how important instrumentation is to the album, with Nas sampling jazz legends like Ahmad Jamal, in contrast to others that rely heavily on samples from very well established famous songs (*cough* Kanye *cough*). Serving as a sort of internal control, It Aint Hard to Tell, which samples Michael Jackson’s Human Nature, is probably Illmatic’s corniest track.

Other highlights include an examination of another flawless track, One Love, with words from its producer Q-Tip. Here we delve into the tragedy of a generation of young black males lost to the mounting mass incarceration that pervaded the latter half of the 20th century, and continues to this day. One Love is definitely a stand out track on the album, in which Nas’s rap takes the form of a letter to a friend in prison, exploring both the horrors faced behind bars, and the void that’s left on the streets—exemplified by the line ‘plus, congratulations, you know you got a son//I heard he looks like ya, why don’t your lady write ya?’ This message is arguably even more relevant now than it was then, with the industrial prison complex at an all-time high, perfectly illuminated in the recent Netflix documentary 13TH. Again there’s an interesting precedent to this, wherein early blues music would often center around the hardships of the penitentiary and the forced labor that came with it—the trials and tribulations encountered in navigating a system that’s designed to keep you down.

I think this documentary and the album itself serves as an interesting follow up to Hip Hop Evolution and The Get Down, since you’ll notice Nas’s frequent nods to the old guard (also coincidentally, Nas introduces each episode of The Get Down with a tailor-made rap). Lines like ‘A smooth criminal on beat breaks’ or ’I reminisce on park jams, my man was shot for his sheep coat’, as well as ‘back in 83 I was an MC sparkin, but I was too scared to grab the mics in the parks and, kick my little raps’—are all brought to life with the knowledge of how early hip hop took shape during Nas’s childhood. At times in the album the instruments will even drop out for a couple of lines, allowing Nas to rap solely over beat breaks, merging the old with the new—an audacious feat for a 21-year-old newcomer. You might be able to tell at this point that I’m struggling to resist the urge to digress into a song by song review of Illmatic, so I’ll cap this off with words from the man himself—‘Sip the Dom P, and watch this document-ary till you’re charged.’ Ok I rejigged it a little, but you get the message.

Culture Corner

Bernie Langs

“Truth” in Painting

Getting to a ‘core essence’ in a mystic or revelatory sense can be as elusive as tracing the path of an electron or photon, famously described as both particle and wave. The arts can be utilized as a conduit to higher states of consciousness. In music, the drone of an Indian sitar or a choral work by Mozart can carry the mind of the listener to abstract and blissful states. In the 19th century, Walter Pater redefined the approach to the study of art in history and art history itself in his book of essays, The Renaissance. When writing about the Italian Renaissance painter Giorgione, he noted “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music” and later asserts that the mind’s impressions are “in continual flux.” Pater states that a passion for the arts has “the greatest potential for staving off the sense of transience, because in the arts the perceptions of highly sensitive minds are already ordered.”

Bernard Berenson [uncredited picture on the Web site Art Fuse]

Bernard Berenson presents his theory of how and why painting grabs hold of the viewer, in his book The Italian Painters of the Renaissance, a compiled series of essays written from 1894 to 1907, and reissued in 1952. Berenson’s famous ideas on the ‘tactile’ process of how paintings bring the viewer to a heightened state starts with his observation of what form does in paintings: “It lends a higher coefficient of reality to the object represented, with the consequent of accelerated psychical processes, and the exhilarating sense of increased capacity in the observer.” He observes this as a retinal sensation and that the tactile sense stems from childhood revelations and joy in the discovery of the physical aspect of the sense of touch.

Alison Brown describes in her essay Bernard Berenson and ‘Tactile Values’ in Florence the evolution of Berenson’s theory, noting that Berenson saw his ideas more akin to psychology rather than philosophy, and that he had been heavily influenced at Harvard by his professor, William James, and his writings on psychological aesthetics.

What I took from reading Berenson’s book over two decades ago, was the idea of the shortcut offered by paintings to heightened states of the sublime, which leaves the door open to many kinds of revelation, including, yet far beyond, the psychological. In the mid-1990s, I purchased a book of collected essays by Meyer Schapiro, who at the time was Professor Emeritus of Art History at Columbia University. I’d read Schapiro’s book of selected papers on late Antiquity, early Christian and Medieval art that had impressed me in its scientific, sleuthing, and exhaustive examination of art, much along the lines of the awe-inspiring and groundbreaking approach of Princeton’s Erwin Panofsky. The 1990s collection includes the essay, Mr. Berenson’s Values from 1961, boasting cutting gems of prose such as his analysis of Berenson’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity.

Meyer Schapiro [Book jacket photo for “Theory and Philosophy of Art” photo by Richard Sandler]

Schapiro notes that Berenson failed to grow as a theorist and critic and chose to be a connoisseur rather than an art historian or philosopher of art, which indeed Berenson did regret. Schapiro describes the theory of ‘tactile values’ in painting as a “strange appeal to physiology” and that Berenson used these ideas “with no deepening sense, as personal clichés imposed on any sort of problem.”

Around the time I read Schapiro’s book, I was trying to incorporate the study of art history in cultural context using the methodical approach of Professors Schapiro and Panofsky, and others combined with the bullet train to higher states I’d created in my mind around Berenson’s ideas.

About ten years ago, I chanced to read The Truth in Painting by French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Derrida’s writings are uncommonly difficult and convoluted, and he is both praised and derided as the main force behind the philosophical school of Deconstruction. When reading Derrida, I’m always struck by his underlying humor, and when I really believe I’m catching the gist of his purposively obtuse arguments, it’s a source of sublime understanding.

Jaques Derrida [Photo: PhilWeb Bibliographic Archive]

Derrida’s approach is akin to a circling war party, each on his own horse surrounding one solitary covered wagon, where all riders have their own notion of what may be hidden in that wagon, and whatever it is may have an ‘ultimate’ end to it. But as we circle, it becomes clear that there’s a good chance that there is absolutely nothing inside the wagon (or perhaps Schrödinger’s cat!) and also that we’re never truly going to get a clear look at it. But by moving closer and closer and sharing all angles of viewing, we’ll perhaps find the ghost or essence of the core.

One of the essays in Truth in Painting is Derrida’s work Restitutions of the truth in pointing [pointure]. Gianluca Spinato in his essay, Philosophy of Art: Martin Heidegger and Meyer Schapiro, argues that “Jacques Derrida’s well-known discussion of the conflict between the faculties in question locates Heidegger on the side of the ‘truth’ of art and finds Schapiro on the side of historical and dialectical, even materialist accuracy. The resulting ‘haul’, as Derrida names it at the end of his own evaluation of Schapiro’s original assessment, ‘is a meagre one for the picture police, for this discourse of order and propriety/property in painting’.”

Derrida examines, in his playfully maddening manner, approaches to understanding Vincent Van Gogh’s famous painting Old Shoes with Laces, as well as other paintings by the artist of peasant boots. Two significant quotes begin the exposition, the first by Cezanne that “I owe you the truth in painting, and I will tell it you” and Van Gogh’s own words, “But truth is so dear to me, and so is the seeking to make true, that indeed, I believe I would still rather be a cobbler than a musician with colors.”

Chad Orzel’s YouTube for TED-ED

After a long discourse on shoes, peppered with doubts of whether they can even be called “a pair” and other unsubstantiated “givens” in discussing Van Gogh, Restitution continues on to jab at Professor Schapiro and his approach to studying art, including the questioning of one of his most famous essays in his book on late Antiquity and early Christian art. Restitution included an unexpected view of Schapiro that both Heidegger and Derrida bring down on him, seemingly implying that their philosophical query into the underlying truths in Van Gogh and in painting, are something akin to abstract notions defined by the ancient Greeks, and ignored and beyond the comprehension of an art historian. Schapiro’s criticism of Heidegger is made to look like an attempt at grabbing back the paintings to his field of study and away from the other school. Derrida writes of “A symbolic correspondence, an accord, a harmonic. In this communication between two illustrious professors who have both of them a communication to make on ‘a famous picture by Van Gogh’—one of the two is a specialist. Painting, and even Van Gogh, is, so to speak, his thing, he wants to keep it, he wants it returned…They owe the truth in painting, the truth of painting and even painting as truth, or even as the truth of truth.”

In complete contradiction to my circling wagon deconstructive metaphor, Derrida describes examining the problem from a stationary standpoint. It reminded me of a lecture I attended many years ago by then-Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philippe de Montebello. He discussed that to get the full power of a painting, one has to look at it for a very long time. He punctuated this point with a funny anecdote of how, while visiting the Frick Collection, he stared so long at a painting that the security staff grew concerned and a guard approached him demanding to know what he was doing. It reminds me to keep looking, keep looking long and hard.

 

New York City Dialect New York-ese, Lesson 5

Aileen Marshall

Yo! Welcome to lesson five in our series on the New York City dialect. I hope you’ve been practicing. By now you should be able to hold a light conversation in New York-ese, and order a bagel with a schmear.

To review last month’s lesson, a number of words in the city dialect have an elongated A sound, sounding like “aw.” Our vocabulary words were tawk, thawt and dawg.  Here are some more examples of them used in a sentence.

Don’t sit next to that guy tawkin’ to himself.

I thawt he was a tourist askin’ for directions, but he was a bum askin’ for change.

You can make money in your spare time as a dawg walker.

Other examples of the elongated A are walk, cough and taught. Here are some examples of these words used in a sentence.

If you want to get around in the city, don’t pay any attention to wawk signals.

Bus exhaust usually makes me cawf.

My mother tawt me never to touch the handrails in the subway.

This month’s lesson:

Native New Yorkers often drop the H in words that start with that letter. The two most common instances of this are huge and human.

Here are some examples of words using the dropped H words used in a sentence. Click on the links to hear the pronunciation.

Dat demonstration on 57th Street is really goin’ to be ‘uge.

It’s been good to see New Yorkers stand up for ‘uman rights.

Keep practicing by listening to locals conversing. Hang out at your neighborhood pizza joint. The two traditional establishments in this neighborhood are Sutton Pizza, on First Avenue and 63rd Street, and Pizza Park, also on First Avenue, at 66th Street. Tune in next month for a test of your newly acquired language skills.