Back and forth, hither and yon – whether on my habitual trajectory between Touraine and Paris or further afield… destinations, encounters, events and observations I can’t resist sharing.

Tidings of Commerce & Junk

December 20, 2011
christmas out of focus

I return to the States at least twice a year, but until two weeks ago hadn’t visited between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, since 1989.  It’s hardly America’s most flattering season.  Over the intervening decades, the holiday season caught the same malady as presidential campaigns and sports seasons – the chief symptoms being it lasts too long, and exerts undue influence over the national psyche and popular culture.

When I asked friends and family to recollect how it was way back in the late 80’s before inflatable snow globe lawn ornaments, LED roof line lights and holiday-jingles-all-the-time radio stations, they were pretty certain it was much the same – like parents who don’t notice changes in children morphing daily under their noses, while someone who sees them every few years finds them barely recognizable.

In the aftermath of the ‘great recession’, I anticipated a reassessment of the ‘meaning of Christmas’ and collective determination to resist deficit consumer spending. While Republican presidential wannabees stage endless debates extolling radical cuts in government programs to reduce the national debt, corporate America hasn’t let up its consumer assault.  The means of infiltration, with new media larded over old – renders the red, green and glitz pitch relentless.

Over ten days I visited Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and New York, staying in cities and suburbs.  The further north I headed, the worse it seemed to get.  It might be that the intensity of Manhattan, where there’s no escape from input overload, proved a tipping point.

Wasn’t Christmas about celebrating the birth of a child in a manger, who grew to preach about the illusion of material well-being?   I hoped to find respite from the onslaught at mass in my old parish church, but it too was unrecognizable – with a gargantuan advent wreath featuring four massive candles the size of pascal candles intended to be lit throughout a full liturgical year.   The scale of disneyfied décor had the charm of shopping mall swag.

As much as I’ll miss sharing Christmas, Hannukah and New Year with my nearest and dearest American family and friends, I left regretting that at least for me, the joys of the season are squelched by an avalanche of schmaltz and commercial overkill.

New York’s Lower East Side – a nostalgia tour

August 9, 2011
Lower East Side

My last Manhattan neighborhood back in 1986 was the East Village, when it was still marginal to rough.  An attempt by young art dealers to break out from Soho and establish an edgy gallery district had failed, and the mood was dispirited.  The block I lived on off Third Avenue on East 12th Street, was lined with a modest mix of prewar appartment blocks and small-scale brownstones, awaiting the spark of gentrification.

I’d moved downtown from a coop building off Central Park on the establishment Upper East Side and the culture shock was was both thrilling and intimidating.  Mugging was rampant then throughout the city, especially in borderline neighborhoods, so dormant feral instinct quickly kicked in.  A few years earlier, fresh out of college, I had a dim apppartment on West 79th Street off Broadway, followed by a sunny, souless perch in an anonymous Yorkville high rise, but had yet to share a stoop with hookers and addicts.

Times sure have changed.  This month, our eldest daughter will move into a college dorm two blocks from my old address, in what has become the most desirable neighborhood in Manhattan, if not the country, for a young creative person.  It’s safe but still aesthetically edgey compared to predominantly residential/retail uptown neighborhoods.  Happily there are still vestiges of its immigrant and bohemian heritage. Read More »

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