Monday, January 31, 2011

Five Petals

Mostly I have a quite vague grasp of the seasonal timelines that govern when flowers appear but every year on the last day of January I know there will be at least a few cherry blossoms on the naked twigs of the little black-barked street trees that can be seen almost anyplace in San Francisco because it has been true on the last day of January annually for the past forty years and was surely true even before that when I wasn't here to observe the fact. The ones above grow in a vulnerable row on Church Street alongside Mission Dolores School and are often vandalized.

Birthday Poem

A Phonecall from Frank O’Hara

by Anne Waldman
“That all these dyings may be life in death”

I was living in San Francisco
My heart was in Manhattan
It made no sense, no reference point
Hearing the sad horns at night,
fragile evocations of female stuff
The 3 tones (the last most resonant)
were like warnings, haiku-muezzins at dawn
The call came in the afternoon
“Frank, is that really you?”

I'd awake chilled at dawn
in the wooden house like an old ship
Stay bundled through the day
sitting on the stoop to catch the sun
I lived near the park whose deep green
over my shoulder made life cooler
Was my spirit faltering, grown duller?
I want to be free of poetry's ornaments,
its duty, free of constant irritation,
me in it, what was grander reason
for being? Do it, why? (Why, Frank?)
To make the energies dance etc.

My coat a cape of horrors
I'd walk through town or
impending earthquake. Was that it?
Ominous days. Street shiny with
hallucinatory light on sad dogs,
too many religious people, or a woman
startled me by her look of indecision
near the empty stadium
I walked back spooked by
my own darkness
Then Frank called to say
“What? Not done complaining yet?
Can't you smell the eucalyptus,
have you never neared the Pacific?
‘While frank and free/call for
musick while your veins swell’”
he sang, quoting a metaphysician
"Don't you know the secret, how to
wake up and see you don't exist, but
that does, don't you see phenomena
is so much more important than this?
I always love that.”
“Always?” I cried, wanting to believe him
“Yes.” “But say more! How can you if
it's sad & dead?” “But that's just it!
If! It isn't. It doesn't want to be
Do you want to be?” He was warming to his song
“Of course I don't have to put up with as
much as you do these days. These years.
But I do miss the color, the architecture,
the talk. You know, it was the life!
And dying is such an insult. After all
I was in love with breath and I loved
embracing those others, the lovers,
with my body.” He sighed & laughed
He wasn't quite as I'd remembered him
Not less generous, but more abstract
Did he even have a voice now, I wondered
or did I think it up in the middle
of this long day, phone in hand now
dialing Manhattan

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Silas & Eppie

The beautiful, silent photo blog known as Silas & Eppie resumes activity tomorrow on my birthday, Monday 31 January 2011. This daily pairing of images, with click-through links back to their sources, originated in September 2008 as my daughter's brainchild. She proposed that every weekday morning she should choose an image and I should choose an image from anywhere in the limitless vastness of cyberspace and then post them side by side without any prior idea of what the other person intended. Our mutual early-morning activity thus turned into a sort of two-sided familial Exquisite Corpse game that proved quite sufficiently entertaining for our modest purposes.

Two years later Silas & Eppie went into hiatus at the same time my daughter took leave from her busy career editing art and design books in order to give birth to that glorious being now known as Mabel Watson Payne, and to nurture her at home. Now a new phase begins, and my granddaughter will be spending her days with the daddy – who has saved up the parental leave from his teaching job for just this time. Later still (some while after we all return from the trip to Rome in March) it will be my own inestimable privilege to contribute a month of daytime care. These and other ingenious arrangements will allow my daughter to immerse herself once more in publishing projects while simultaneously mothering the flourishing rosebud-offspring.

Here then let us welcome Silas & Eppie back into palpitating kinetic dailiness. To honor that event, I offer an image-selection of personal favorites from the S&E archive.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Yuan Yuan Tan

Attended the opening night of San Francisco Ballet, rainy and cold and marvelous in every way – because Yuan Yuan Tan (above) danced Giselle.

This is her fifteenth season as a Principal Dancer with San Francisco Ballet. It must have been about 1997 when I first had the unearned luck to witness the Giselle of Yuan Yuan Tan. After many subsequent viewings it remains my favorite of her roles – the tender weightlessness of every step and gesture, as if she were dancing on the moon in thinner air than ours, with gravity absent. At any given time in the history of the world there can of course only by a few truly great performing artists. It would be reason enough all by itself to live in San Francisco, knowing that one of the present few is living and working here.

Other people will write long & learned reviews about this particular cast in this simple little fable of undying love as it is told without words and solely through movement (starkly, romantically, surrealistically). Other people are good at that kind of writing, but it doesn't suit me. I'll finish more simply – especially since it's already long past my bedtime – with a few additional images of YYT from other ballets, pictures I discovered fairly recently and have not posted before.

Social Babies

Mabel Watson Payne paid a visit to a friend whose mother happens to be a very good photographer and who generously shared her images of these cheerful small people.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fictional Politics

Never up-to-the-minute, I just got around to reading this 2008 novel by Joan Silber called The Size of the World. Sooner or later I will read whatever she writes out of simple gratitude for her 2001 novel Lucky Us which I read aloud to my convalescing daughter, who had her wisdom teeth pulled shortly after that book came out. What a spectacular diversion it turned out to be. We both thought Lucky Us was the most convincing and unsentimental yet moving modern-days love story we had ever read, and for my part I still think so. The new book works extremely well too – a much more intricate piece of craftsmanship (from a technical point of view) with six interlocking sections, each narrated by a different character inhabiting a different range of geographies in a different span of time. Frankly, I have abandoned a number of books (including McEwan's hugely popular Atonement) when the voice of a narrator I liked was dropped and a new narrator stood up to speak. Silber's six voices would not permit any such grumpy dissatisfactions, though I do not really know by what trick she makes them so urgently interesting. Partly it must be the way she handles her big theme of east-west colonialism and war as it consistently inundates these various bit players on the global stage. The compromised idealism of fictional characters is even more difficult to render credibly then the love-lives of fictional characters – I suppose politics is even harder than love to represent justly (and not wishfully) in a work of art. So I am a few years late here, but still wanted to give Joan Silber credit for her great success in The Size of the World.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Elgin Marbles

Lord Byron did not care for the sculptures, calling them "misshapen monuments." He strongly objected to their removal from Greece, denouncing Elgin as a vandal. His view of the removal of the Marbles from Athens is also reflected poetically in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage:
Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behoved
To guard those relics ne'er to be restored.
Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,
And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
And snatch'd thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I have followed fashion stylist Nicola Formichetti's blog for longer than Spencer Alley has existed, and so watched his career skyrocket from admirable but fairly ordinary mainstream success designing photo shoots for fashion magazines to outright superstardom after he became Lady Gaga's executive wardrobe consultant. At the British Fashion Awards just last month Daphne Guinness crowned him Fashion Creator of the Year, and this month Formichetti presented his first runway show as creative director of the Paris couture house of Thierry Mugler. The film of the show seen below was directed by Mariano Vivanco. And the friendly Gaga pitched in with the music.