Saturday, February 28, 2009

New York Highlight 2: art edition

I'm sitting here in a our fav. bookstore/cafe (yes the one with the sandwich) with Bluebelle and we're just catching up on things, grading (or attempting to grade) and reflecting on my presentation yesterday...which is over, and thus good.

One of the other experiences bluebelle and I shared was our first time at MOMA, in New York. I've wanted to go to MOMA for a while now and it was a must-see for me on this trip. We went (along with our dear friend Heather) on a day (that was a public holiday here in the US).

First of all, it was so heartening to see how many people make a day of it by going to a museum. The state of the arts, if our experience at the MOMA is any indication, is healthy- even in tough times such as these. It was really wonderful to see so many people taking hours out to appreciate art, telling their little children about famous paintings and to watch people of all ages, types and nationalities wandering around the museum.

I couldn't help but think back to some of the beautiful pieces of art that lie dustily neglected in museums in India because of archaic rules, bad management and an unfriendly user-experience (I'm not picking just on India but that is the context I know best). The MOMA does things right- one of the marvels for me was something as simple as the coat check system which managed to place and retrieve thousands of bags and coats in an an extremely timely, efficient and friendly manner. These small things make a big difference.

There was plenty of art I really liked- including Picasso who I always try to appreciate but never really GET. My favorites were Matisse's 'red studio', Jasper John's 'Map' and some beautiful new finds (for me) like Balla's 'Street light' But my favorite was Klimt's 'The Park'.

Very different from the quintessential Klimt in my mind, but yet very Klimt. The picture does not do it justice - but I imagine the beauty of the varied specks of green is difficult to render on film anyway.

Bluebelle and I wandered for several hours until we came across the following pieces of art that we immediately categorized into 'WTF art'. A bunch of wool and lint on the floor with mirrors in between? A string in the shape of trapeziod? A pink plastic ledge propped up against a wall? I don't get it, dude. I know that there is probably some deep explanation for it but our first reaction was "really?". So there, I've outed myself and bluebelle as philistines.

The bs explanations for each of these pieces just added to our incredulity. Here is the description of the pink ledge called (for some reason) "The Absolutely Naked Fragrance" (John McCracken). This is what the pink plastic plank ( a far better, alliterative to boot title in my opinion) represents:

"The polished resin surface recalls the aesthetic of 1960's southern California surfboard and Kustom Kar cultures, the title was drawn from advertising slogans in fashion magazines. "
(ok so we have somewhat of a reason for that title)


"The plank's interaction with both the floor and the wall is meant to call attention to the space being occupied by both viewer and object. I see the plank as existing between both worlds, McCracken says, the floor representing the physical world of standing objects, trees, cars, buildings, human bodies and everything, and the wall representing the world of the imagination, illusionistic painting space, human mental space and all that.'


Do you see all that in this below?

Anyway, the WTF art (as bluebelle and I will forever call it), the stunning design section and the magnificent works of art in the giant, cool spaces of the MOMA building all came together to make a great experience and definitely a highlight of the New York trip.

I didn't get to copy down the explanation for the next WTF piece but following from an idea from my sister (who attempted -with her art-history chops- to come up with some sort of understanding of this), I challenge/ invite you to write a suitably arty explanation of what I will call 'Stretchy purple string':

What would the little plaque next to this say, if you were the curator at MOMA? Do weigh in below.

Monday, February 23, 2009

New York City Highlight No. 1: Banana Pudding at Magnolia's

So I went to NYC last week (for a conference (ahem) more about that later). I could do a whole NYC diary but I'm not sure I have the time and you have the inclination so instead, I'll pick my top 5 best experiences from this trip. So here goes:

While I definitely left my heart in San Francisco, New York makes it beat just a little faster. There is nothing as cool as emerging from your train/plane/bus in New York and immediately melding into the crowd, amongst crisp fall or winter air and twinkling buildings. There's something about it that just makes me feel ALIVE.

But this post is not about my heart, or perhaps only indirectly in vague health-related ways that we should not dwell on right now. This post is about my stomach. It's a post about a very happy food discovery that I made this trip. And to make up for my silence, I shall start my New York posts in the most delectable way possible.

Without further ado I present to you: The Banana Pudding at Magnolia Bakery

The picture could never convey to you the greatness of this humble looking pudding- custard, vanilla wafers, ripe bananas and whipped cream!

This is all of us digging into the banana pudding for breakfast- this is after we ate it for dinner. The next day we ate it after lunch, and the day after that, FOR lunch.

If you're a sex and the city fan (I'm not) you know that this is where Carrie got her cupcakes. But an excellent tipster told us to steer clear of the cupcakes and go for the pudding and now it is only my duty to pass the wisdom along (although pretty much all my readers were actually with me in NYC eating this very same pudding, so who am I kidding).

The inside of the store is 'cute' in a very chick-lit, girly, pastel sort of way.It really looks like it could be the cover picture for a chick-lit book with curly hand writing and a giant pink shoe on a tiered cake...that sort of thing. It's set on Bleeker street (401) in a pretty neighborhood- very NYC. But really forget the ambiance, the cuteness or the pop-culture relevance. Just follow the sign and eat the banana pudding...

The adoring masses....lined up for the cupcakes no doubt, poor things- tsk tsk!

I'm back...and I'm blogger than ever

Gulp.....Ahem.....Hello? Anyone there?

Yes, it's been a while....I know, I know...I've just been busy, you know? It's not like I forgot about you...Sorry....It's been nice to know I've been missed though - casual reminders from friends, Heather's comments and even a text message from randy vandal- I totally feel like a plastic (Mean girls reference)!! Anyway, I'm back! So ....are we cool now? .... Ok?.... Ok! So let the blogging begin!

There's sooo much to catch up on and blog about! In the time I've been away I had a(nother) birthday, went to New York, unpacked tons of boxes of accomplished books, worked on a document that will be ripped apart this coming Friday (joy), joined the pink chaddhi campaign, looked at apartments with prospective roomies, watched and really liked Slumdog Millionaire, realized sadly that I might be becoming an NRI and of course watched the Oscars last night!

(Speaking of which- woo hoo for Slumdog Millionaire! And A R Rahman who deserves all these accolades and more (not that Slumdog millionaire is really close to his best work but that's fine).

(Gosh I feel rusty)

So I finally saw SM and suprise..I liked it. I had not expected to. As someone on Sepia Mutiny put it "Anything having to do with the third world that masses of white people go into paroxysms over is guilty until proven innocent…" It's an uncomfortable sentiment but I understand it. I didn't want to see some exotic, cliche ridden version of India (with bright colors and poor kids who are filled with inner joy etc. which, come to think of it, SM had). I also had read the book the movie is based on and I found it far fetched and not very compelling after the first few chapters. I was also put off by the reviews of some bloggers and critics that I respect and tend to agree with. I didn't have a problem with seeing the ugly side of India per se but I did have a problem with exoticizing and spiritualizing it.

SM, I'm pleased to say, did nothing of the kind. It's just a roller coaster of a movie, shot beautifully, with excellent pacing and plot. The kids are believable and the acting decent and Anil Kapoor's supreme over the top, ham acting actually works in the film. Anil Kapoor works in a film- that alone should get it the Oscar. Anyway, it combines an utterly fantastical, uplifting story with glimpses of utter bleakness and grit. It's simultaneously authentic and escapist - and it works as a bollywood film that is so not a bollywood film. Just exhilarating.

And trite as this may sound, it made me think about all the kids on the streets of Delhi that you see every day- trailing you at PVR or reaching through a car window. Most of the time my reaction to them was one of discomfort mingled with annoyance but I had never really thought about their inner lives, what a tough existence theirs is and the brutality and violence they must see every day...

That said, I do understand why Slumdog Mliionaire riles up emotions in India. I can understand how to people that feel marginalized by the riches of neo-liberalization and globalization all around them, something as ultimately rosy as SM and the entire hoopla surrounding it can rankle. The success of SM, made by foreigners and celebrating what is a very grim existence understandably creates anger and a further haves versus have nots division. It's just a step away from the Mangalore pub incident- which I find scary, objectionable and profoundly undemocratic- but can understand intellectually all the same. I think it's very telling to see a slew of works that address this divide coming out in recent years in India, from people that have some degree of distance from extreme wealth in India and thus a more critical eye than say, the Karan Johars of the world. So White Tiger (which aroused a similar debate in India, although on a smaller scale) or Oye Lucky Lucky Oye are documenting the seamy, underbelly of contemporary Indian society. History 2 as Dipesh Chakravorty would call it. (And with that sentence I cross firmly into pretentious territory so I'll stop).

One last thing: What I find idiotic on the other hand is people like Amitabh Bachchan winging about SM out of barely concealed jealousy. Another tone I pick up on in much of the criticism of SM from Indian intellegensia is a sort of reverse snobbery- sort of like 'only we know and understand India/poverty fully, you wouldn't get it, white people.' You see such condescension in academia all the time and I have no patience for it.

Finally, on the flip-side, to those that say SM is the only realistic bollywood movie made: the comparison is utterly invalid. Bollywood is a completely different animal from 'Western' cinema- it reflects its own traditions, history, ethos and style. Comparing mainstream Indian movies to SM is a strawman argument. You're better of comparing SM to non-mainstream Indian cinema and even then, two words: Satyajit Ray.

So that's my take on Slumdog- gosh, it was hard to write that since I've been so out of touch but I'm back and I'm blogging and it's FUN!

And in no particular order my top 5 Oscar moments:

1. A.R. Rahman winning and performing at the Oscars. With people in lehengas!! I loved this humility and his simple speech and a little part of me (the part I fear is becoming predictably NRI - which is fodder for a post coming soon) said in my head 'India! Indian! Indian! India!'

2. Hugh Jackman's opening routine- he was charming and funny, talented and relaxed and I loved how cool the opening bit was. I on the whole loved the new set and the small, intimate feel of the show.

3. The whole Jen Aniston and Brangelina showdown. Team Aniston all the way (for obvious reasons)! I couldn't believe the Oscars did a whole filmfare Rekha-Amitabh thing and cut to Angelina when Jennifer was presenting- very sneaky! Anyway, I was so happy Sean Penn won because JM was sitting right behind him!

4. The previous acting awards winners handing out the new awards- there was something genuinely emotional about the way the actors seemed to react to previous greats praising their performances.

5. Ben Stiller's spot on take on Joaquin Phoenix. Just the right balance between hilarious and slightly cruel...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Grammyzzzz (barely/sorta live blogging)

Coolest Grammy Moment: Jay Z, TI, Lil Wayne and Kanye AND a very,very pregnant M.I.A. singing 'swaggera like us'!! AND M.I.A. is due to have her baby TODAY so watching her bounce all over the stage in basically see through black stockings covered in patches of black and white polka dots was awesome in many ways!

ETA: (2 mins later) JM won! I will still not give it coolest moment as even JM cannot compete with the sheer visual marvel that was M.I.A. (well, he's a visual marvel in other ways) but it is a cool moment indeed.

Ok and the Radiohead performance was nothing to sneeze at either. Quite brill.

Ok, ok moving on....

Uncoolest Grammy moment: The Jonas Brothers reducing Stevie Wonder to a shrill, shrieking mess - Stevie, why??? Closely followed by Miley Cyrus- it is not a generation gap thing- she is a very poor singer. Period.

P.S. The Grammy's just make me laugh- how can Alison Krauss and Robert Plant still be sweeping these awards with so much more interesting and innovative music around? Total time warp.

Now its over, I just want to say - snooooozefest (apart from the things I mentioned and maybe Coldplay and Jay Z. And even that was stretching it. )

Goose bumps - of the good kind

Just watching 60 minutes interview with the crew of the US Airways flight that ended up in the Hudson. I think the word 'Hero' is often over-used, particularly in American media/culture (I mean, I once heard a girl tell a starbucks barista that he was 'her hero' because he could make her a particular kind off coffee) but this is one time where the word is completely and truly apt.

What a calm, understated and thorough professional Captain Sullenberger is. The rest of the crew too seems utterly professional but the Captain is truly remarkable. In addition to his skills in landing the plane at the correct speed, angle and balance and his professionalism both during and after the incident- I've admired how quietly introspective, gracious and humble he has been about the whole episode. I appreciated his discomfort with the word 'hero' but his understanding of why people may need to say that.

Some people have seen in Captain Sullenberg an image of the kind of leader that America has long missed- his calm in the face of daunting odds, his humility and thorough professionalism seemed to foreshadow what people hope to see under Obama's leadership. The timing of the incident, coming so close to the inauguration, begged those comparisons. I find it an interesting thought but having seen this, I find something even more moving in the notion of a group of average people just doing their job to the best of their ability, with no thought to legacy or image.

It also was officially the first TV event of the year that made me cry... so I figure it's worth blogging about.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Meal of the Month: Asti Cafe

Meal of the month deserves its own entry:

I was going to be shameless and pat myself on the back for the best yet iteration of my eggplant pahi. I made this on the night of the inauguration and nodded blissfully to myself as I thought "you're good. really good."

10 minutes later: Oh My god! What am I saying?! The eggplant can wait. No, the best meal of the month was undoubtedly Pine tree's delicious birthday meal at Asti Cafe. It was so good, I'm going to share pics:

My Ravioli was rich and satisfying with fresh cheese and an absolutely elevated vodka sauce...

Pine tree's tortellini di bernardo (spinach tortellini, mushrooms, garlic sauce and prosciutto) was very flavorful as was blue-eyes' eggplant dish which I could not get a pic of.

The Tiramisu was luscious and moist and not too rummy

But the piece de resistance was the Creme Brulee - just superb with a caramel that was just the right amount of bitter-salty.

The service was a trifle snooty but that did not detract from a great meal- I'll definitely be back at Asti and for my fellow 'cuse dwellers, check it out!

D-List: January 09

To be honest, I think I'm all 'listed out' after the mega end of the year best of list. Still it wouldn't do to mess with tradition, especially at the start of the year and some of you have been grumbling about my lack of posting AND I am otherwise uninspired and (still) sort of here is your regularly scheduled monthly d-list. And then after this I promise no more lists till the end of this month!

So without further ado:

Best Movie: I didn't see a whole lot so far so this will have to go to the Dark Knight. I'm not a big super-hero fan, nor do I like action movies so this is more by default than anything. BUT as super-hero, action movies go this was pretty good. Heath Ledger was good and some of the plot twists were fun. I don't buy that this has any thing deep to say about good and evil like a lot of people have said- I just think it was good old TP (time pass), as they say in India.

Best Book: A most wanted man- John le Carre. I'm a little late to the party but this was a really solid, well paced book with some great insights about immigration, the clash of cultures and liberalism, intelligence, terrorism and the post 9/11 culture of fear. Also Arvind Adiga's heart breaking story called The Elephant in the New Yorker which in my opinion was better than White Tiger (does he have a thing for animals in his titles??)

Best Article: Now here I have a lot of contenders. I really liked this article discussing the Bush legacy through his most famous pictures, I also liked Zadie Smith's great article on comedy in the New Yorker.

Blog of the month: This has been a great month for discovering cool blogs. My favorite is one I already link to- David Lebovitz's food blog- great writing about Paris, desserts and desserts in Paris, easy recipes and lovely pics

Discovery of the Month: 1. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches 2. How the heating in my apartment really works- and now I'm in T shirts 3. I'm anemic (No. 1 and No. 3 may be related to each other)

Best Moment: Probably the euphoria of the inauguration AND the birth of Violet's very coolly-named baby!

Worst Moment/ Challenge of the month: a smorgasboard of health problems and knowing I have to get over my fear of doctors :(

Well, that's that for the lists. Feb is going to be an exciting month for sure- tons of work, ISA in New York via my first time on amtrak (stay tuned for a NY diary) and the Oscars, more snow, probably more recession and yes, amidst all of this- a birthday!