If I had done it, it would have been cleverer

I had this idea a few years back, which never went farther than my yakking about it to anyone who would listen, to go around to every piece of Shepard Fairey’s grafitti art I could find and use paint thinner or remover to spell out the word “VANDAL!” over it. (In some variations, the plan involved a website that distributed VANDAL! stencils, since I doubted I’d be able to do it all myself; I don’t think Shepard Fairey does all his grafitti himself).

Anyway, it looks like someone is at least thinking along the same lines, though my message was more “destroy street art” than “destroy the museums”. More here.

Then again, it’s kind of interesting:

Pages 8 and 9 contain a long essay entitled “Gentrification: Let’s Give the Artist a Hand.” It accuses the artist-class of being a tool of property establishment– a tool used to redevelop a neighborhood before it’s given part and parcel to the rich, at the expense of the poor residents who lived there in the first place: “An art school degree is a choice; eviction usually isn’t.” Streetartists, according to the Splasher, play a signaling role in gentrification: “by creating a public display of their work on the walls of impoverished areas… (they) advertise to real estate agents that an area is ripe for the picking.” They cite other examples in the East Village in the 1980s and LES in the 1990s, and say that Banksy’s mural in Williamsburg “might have shifted the (neighborhood’s) gentrification into overdrive… We certainly relished destroying it.”

Happy Transportation Day!

It’s been a surprisingly eventful day, one of those days where everything seems subtly connected to everything else.

I was on the phone first thing this morning with Cathleen about a minor ruckus (I would rate it about 0.25 on a ruckus scale of 0 – 10) over semi-colons, and she ended the conversation by wishing me a happy Transportation Day. I was chuffed.

Transportation Day is this annual picnic in the urban office park where I work, on the outskirts of MIT, where the management company invites various transportation vendors to set up booths. So there is usually one person giving out free bike maps, one representative from Amtrak, one from the MBTA, one from the strange little blue shuttle service that takes people from the office park to the nearest commuter rail stop. And so on. And there are usually free burgers and sausages and ice cream and some kind of carnival prizes and some sort of inflatable thing and some sort of person in a foam costume. I have always assumed that there is some kind of tax break for encouraging your tenants to avoid cars in their commutes, and that was Transportation Day’s whole raison d’être, but that is pure conjecture.

But Transportation Day is meaningful to me. Just a few weeks after I started this job, in June of 2000, I blew off what would have been my first Transportation Day in order to go shopping for an engagement ring for my girlfriend Terri. I met up with my brother Simon and sister-in-law Frances, and they took me to a couple of places in the jewelry district around Downtown Crossing in Boston. I ended up getting something at the same place that they had gotten their wedding rings.

So, every year, when Transportation Day rolls around, I get to thinking about getting engaged, and how nervous I was, and how much it goes against my grain to buy jewelry, but sucking it up because I knew that I was (hopefully!) going to get engaged out of the deal. And remembering it makes me all happy.

The first truly unexpected thing that happened on the morning of Transportation Day 2007, though, was that Terri and I put down a deposit for some studio space at the Joy Street Studios in Somerville. It wasn’t totally unexpected. We have been looking for a place to put the new Chandler & Price letterpress for a few months now. And we took a tour of the new Joy Street studio space earlier in the week. But when Terri called back to see about the space we had liked, and it had already been rented, we knew we couldn’t drag it out anymore, and we just had to go for a space today. This place is only a 4-minute drive from my office, so we went back just before lunch and figured out which of the remaining studios was our second choice, and put down a deposit. So this is very exciting. We will be moving the big press in a few weeks, and we have new, purely creative space to work in.

When I got back to work, Transportation Day was in full bloom, so I got my fluorescent orange Tyvek™ wristband from the front desk, and stood in a fairly long line for a sausage, and ran into Josh and sat by him out on the lawn. The DJ cranked up the Bon Jovi when it came on. I managed to eat without spilling onions and peppers down my front, which is pretty good for me. When I took the elevator back up, people were talking about a monkey. I totally missed the monkey! Had I not had a 1pm meeting, I surely would have gone back out and tracked down the monkey.

The really funny thing about the monkey, actually, is that Amy and I had been talking about the ideal Transportation Day feature, and decided that it would be a Monkey Grinder. And, lo and behold, a monkey grinder showed up! And we were stuck inside, watching the monkey from a meeting we were stuck in, while the monkey was on the other side of the glass, adjusting his little red fez, and kissing his handler. I mean, let’s face it, who would choose to be inside, learning about a reporting portal when they could be hanging out with a monkey?

The next unexpected thing happened toward the end of the day, also when I was in a meeting with Amy, when I briefly paused to check my email, and found out that my sister April had gotten engaged. I started flipping out and shreiking and probably scared the life out of poor Amy. This was not quite unexpected, either, but who knew it would happen today, on Transportation Day, the day of engagement?

And, then, on my walk home from the T, I called Simon and Frances to wish them a happy 10th anniversary (yes, my little brother has been married 10 years… gah!), and to discuss April’s engagement. They are visiting my folks in Western Pennsylvania and they were in the car on their way to dinner at the Grand Concourse in Pittsburgh, which was an early Simon and Frances Show date location, back when they were 15. We also went there with Greg and Dawn a few years back, for brunch the day after Dawn’s birthday, when she was starting to have morning sickness, though she didn’t know she was pregnant with Will at the time.

Anyway, I feel like I’ve gone a long way this Transportation Day.

Schooooool’s out. For. Summer!

I was pretty preoccupied for the last couple of weeks, both with my day job and also with getting some stuff together for the Printing Fair at the Museum of Printing last weekend. And so when I had some time earlier this week to catch my breath, it occurred to me that something was different. Things seemed calmer. The T seemed emptier. Easier to find a seat in the morning. The sun is shining brighter. There haven’t been any beer cans appearing in our hedges. Or many drunken shouts in the street. What could this mean? Oh…… That’s right. Tufts’ and Harvard’s and MIT’s graduations were all in the last two weeks.

Schooooooool’s out! For. Summer!

And, a belated congratulations to my mother-in-law, a newly-retired 3rd grade teacher. For her….

Schooooooool’s out! For. Ever!!!!!!!!

Congratulations to the couple I saw getting engaged in front of the Davis Square T station tonight

I was walking out of the T station tonight on my way home. I turned my head to the left, and saw a young woman on the bench under the wisteria, a young man in a suit in front of her holding up a little black box. In that split second thought, “no, it can’t be”, but then I lip-read her saying “yes!” and taking his face in her hands and giving him a big smooch.

I wanted to cheer, but thought better of it.

But I had a big stupid grin for the rest of the walk home.

So, congratulations, kids! Know that I wanted to cheer, but thought better of it!

Trouble in Paradiso

Paradiso Lost, sign 2Caffé Paradiso in Harvard Square has closed up shop. I’m crushed. It’s a double-whammie. I just lost another coffee shop of personal significance last August (the Someday Café in Davis Square). And earlier this year, another independent Harvard Square institution, the Greenhouse restaurant (which Terri and I lovingly called The Greasehouse, though we didn’t go much for that reason) closed up shop abruptly after the death of the owner.

The Hanover Street location is apparently still open in the North End.

Here’s the sign that Summervillain and I found when we were trying to go there this evening before we were heading over to the Brattle:

To our friends, dedicated customers, and long-time patrons.

We have come to terms with this location and thus moving on. As we take on new horizons we thank you for all those memorable years.

I, Oscar De Stefano, will be taking on a less complicated life.

Some of the staff will be in the North End Caffé Paradiso @ 255 Hanover Street

Respectfully,
Oscar De Stefano

I feel like another little piece of my past got ripped out of me. Almost twelve years ago, I went there for the first time; I had flown in from Indiana, where I was going to college, to spend Thanksgiving with my family, who were all congregating in Boston. My brother and sister were in their first year with the Boston Ballet (I can’t remember if my then-soon-to-be-sister-in-law had moved up to Boston yet or not), and my parents and other sisters were coming up from Pennsylvania. I came up a few days earlier than then, and since the sibs were rehearsing for the Nutcracker, I had some time to myself, and so I went to Harvard Square. It was one of those grey November days where you can tell just from the air that a snow is coming. I kind of fell in love with the weird little brick alleys and haphazardly laid-out streets. I went into the Paradiso to warm up and have a spinach calzone. It started snowing, and I thought for the first time, “I could live here.”

Paradiso was a different breed than the wave of Pacific Northwest style espresso shops that cropped up around the country in the 90′s. It was an Italian style cafe. Over time, I noticed them make concessions to American coffee shop conventions: they began selling cappuccinos in different sizes, they began selling chai, they began selling lattes, they dropped the table service, and so on. But you could still get real-deal gelato, cannolli, San Pelligrino sodas, panini pressed in a little tabletop press.

I’m not dealing with this well at all! I get a clenched feeling in my chest every time I think about how I’ll never be able to go there and spend hours reading or writing in notebooks, half-watching Italian soap operas or soccer games on satellite TV with the staff. Did they even have wi-fi? I have no idea.

What’s going in there? The only thing worse than another chain store in Harvard Square would be if the space goes idle for years, the way that the Other Music space went idle for years (and was finally filled… by an “aromatherapy martini” bar— I can’t make it up) and the way that Wordsworth went out years ago and still hasn’t been replaced by anything.

Anyway, at least the movie that I went to see with Terri and Summervillain was great.

Trouble in ParadiseIt was Trouble in Paradise, the fantastic Ernst Lubitsch comedy from 1932 starring Herbert Marshall and Kay Francis. It’s so perfect; the writing is fantastic, the acting— particularly the timing— is superb, the cinematography is gorgeous, the sets are fantastic. In a lot of ways it is very restrained about sex— you barely see any kissing— but much is suggested. The humor is in no small part fueled by extremely witty double-entendres and there is a very “Contintental” attitude toward sex throughout. It was released just months before the Hays code really kicked in; it would be another thirty-five years before Hollywood got that open about sex again, and it would never again have that elegant, paradoxical, and intoxicating combination of openness and restraint. The sets and clothes are stylish, modern, and somehow more tasteful than some of the over-the-top displays of extravagance in other films shot in the nadir of the depression. You still just want to climb in and live in that world (at least I do). And, at least for me, the perfection of the whole thing is bittersweet, knowing that thanks to (fellow Wabash College alumnus) Will Hays, there would never be another film like this made again.

I guess that is the way of Paradise: it’s always in the past, somewhere that you can’t get back to.

The Monkey Grinder

Here’s one that’s been sitting in the drafts folder since before the St. Patrick’s Week Pogues show that we went to with some friends.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

So, the other night, when we were having dinner at Orleans with Trixie, the Villain, Tim, Terri, and Terri’s parents before the Pogues show, the conversation turned, as it inevitably does, toward monkeys and the appropriate uses of monkeys in restaurants. Herr Doktor Villain was proposing that it is basically never appropriate to have a monkey in a restaurant. I was suggesting that perhaps it was if accompanied by an organ grinder, but I accidentally said “Monkey Grinder”, a malaprop which changed the course of the conversation toward machinery geared toward primate grinding.

After dinner, we parted ways with Terri’s folks who headed back to The Curtisian and the rest of us headed toward the Orpheum and the final of the four Pogues pre-St. Patrick’s day shows in Boston.

It was very much the same story as last year’s Pogues show at the Orpheum. Shane did not drink the entire bottle of whiskey this time, though, and was not quite so falling-down drunk (though he did manage to fall once (Trixie described it well)). The band was playing together a bit better this year and sounded a little looser and confident.

Here’s the thing I feel weird about.

To what extent is it exploitation for me to enjoy a show where a prime source of entertainment is whether or not the lead singer is 1) in danger of being too drunk to make it to the venue 2) too drunk to make it to the stage 3) so drunk that he requires a runway made of reflective tape and stagehands with flashlights to shepherd him off stage 4) so drunk that he falls down when he’s stepping off stage for a drink despite the stagehands and the runway?

The phrase that came back to mind again was “monkey grinder”. Shane is the monkey in the grinder, being trotted out by his bandmates at the peril of his own health just so that they can make a buck while he’s still around.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I’ve softened my stance in the weeks since I originally wrote this, particularly after watching If I Should Fall From Grace, the documentary about Shane MacGowan made about 7 years ago, in which he was in basically the same astonishing state of constant inebriation in which he currently seems to reside. Shane is what he is, and the truth is, not only do the Pogues need him, but I think he needs them, too. I don’t think it’s exploitation to do three East-Coast USA shows a year. There are worse ways to make a living, and he would be far worse off drinking himself to death in obscurity.

QOTD: 7 June 2007

“I don’t believe in total freedom for the artist. Left on his own, free to do anything he likes, the artist ends up doing nothing at all. If there’s one thing that’s dangerous for an artist, it’s precisely this question of total freedom, waiting for inspiration and all the rest of it.”

—Federico Fellini

[via Signal vs. Noise]

The Summer of Our Content

Since my posts recently have been snobby and negative, I wanted to point out that I am enjoying

  • the cold, rainy June weather, which is infinitely preferable to heat
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (which I am a couple of years late to the party on, but that’s OK. If you are also late to the party, check here for reviews, and here for an interview by John Hodgman and the author, Susanna Clark).
  • Speaking of John Hodgman, I think I forgot to mention how much I loved The Areas of My Expertise.
  • Strange & Norrell has reminded me about how much I love The Kinks’ “Muswell Hillbillies”, and I’ve listened to it twice in as many days. I have it on vinyl, which also makes me happy.
  • Shorpy, which gives me at least one stunning and wonderful thing every day.
  • No Man’s Land @ the A.R.T.

    The only thing the current ART production has going for it is a pretty good performance by Max Wright as Spponer, and that Paul Benedict is in it. It didn’t do much to change my opinion of Pinter as a third-rate playwright. It’s like watching something written by someone who’s trying to copy a Beckett play who’s only read reviews of Beckett plays, with a great big plate of pretense to start. There were two nice touches in the A.R.T. production: the very nice stage sunlight that streams through the window in one scene, and the way that a little mist cloud could be seen when bottles of champagne were opened.

    And thus ends our subscription. After how disappointing this season was, I don’t think we’ll be subscribing again next year. Some people have framed the departure of the artistic director as a conflict between “the bottom line” and artistic integrity. But this is just silly. Woodruff sucked. His idea of being edgy consisted of sticking an electric guitar in someone’s hands (Orpheus, Britannicus) and sticking an “x” at the end of the title. At The Onion Cellar, they handed out a marketing survey. Did Peter Brook hand out marketing surveys?

    Sealing the deal, next season, they’re doing a stage production of Donnie Darko. Donnie fucking Darko. Remind me to rant about how bad Donnie Darko is sometime. Considering how they slaughtered a good movie earlier this year, I want no part of this.

    (Cranky cranky cranky. Sorry, it’s hot outside!)

    Anyway, the upside is that next year, maybe we’ll try to take in some less overblown, more indie theater productions.