“…people talking, people laughing, a man selling ice cream, singing Italian songs…” [skrrrraaa-tccchhhh] Lift the needle on the turntable, there’s no need to continue down this golden oldie path from 1972 paved with the lilting sounds of Robert Lamm and Peter Cetera. People weren’t singing Italian songs, but were speaking in French. And it wasn’t the fourth of July. It was the twenty-fifth of May, and I got stuck in a fierce and windy rain walking through the Jardin du Luxembourg. But it was Saturday, and I was in a park. Can you dig it? Yes you can…
Like the countless other people who were in the same predicament I was in, I took cover under a collection of trees, most of which are by now bushy with lots of leaf-coverage and providing some respite from the numerous spring rains in Paris. After ten minutes loitering under some trees on the westside, admiring two tennis players play through the torrent, I darted across the garden, in front of the senate building and the soaking wet security guards, with my umbrella flipping inside-out repeatedly, until I got to the eastside.
There, I cosied up to another group of people who were waiting out the rain, when I noticed a group of people gathering around a nearby gazebo. I checked it out, and discovered an orchestra tuning up for a concert. It was cold, about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and still raining. Nevertheless folks of all ages were there, umbrellas in hand, waiting for the music.
In an ironic gesture to the winter-like weather enveloping Paris right now, I expected to hear Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps (in any case, the song is ubiquitous in this city in the springtime, written as it was for the 1913 Paris season of S. Diaghilev’s “Ballets Russes” dance company).
It turns out, however, the orchestra was short a few players. They were waiting on a trombonist, whom I saw hurriedly arrive by bus, and a couple other players (of which instruments, I don’t know). I couldn’t wait around to see the show unfortunately. But I was able to capture a few minutes of the players warming up and the conductor checking the tune of each section of his team. I actually enjoy this part of a symphony quite a lot, almost as much as the performance itself: all of the players blurting out sounds discordantly, and yet it’s never painful or irritating to hear. It’s especially satisfying when, after listening to the musicians tuning up individually, a collective silence abruptly descends on the group, and then the formal start of the first piece commences; the conductor’s carriage becomes composed, determined, and decidedly indicative; sonic discordance becomes congruous and harmonious music. It’s magical, really.
In the end, I caught only the warm up. So I neither saw nor heard the transition to the musical score. I don’t even know what program the distinguished looking group eventually played. But perhaps you’ll enjoy this critical prelude to the show as much as I did.
In April I had the good fortune to spend a day in the southern Swedish city of Malmö. I’d never been there before, and though I had a handful of interesting reasons to spend a day there I never expected to be so enthralled by the place. With Copenhagen as my base, I got a bike, hopped a train, and after a quick twenty-five minutes traveling under the Øresund, I emerged in Malmö. I took care of business and by bike saw a lot of Sweden’s third largest city, the capital of Skåne County and home to the HSB Turning Torso (the largest skyscraper in Sweden and the Nordic countries).
I was quickly taken by the old town, its markets and cafés, pubs and music stores. The buildings were colorful, too, which I rather like, and somehow they retained a sense of fecund floral life even in the cold and rainy springtime weather that I encountered. There is a lot more to say about the architecture and the people, both of which, for their charm and attractiveness, left an indelible mark on my memory and imagination that, before too long, I hope will drive me back for a longer stay.
What I’d like to mention here is something that I found really extraordinary in the city: the art. There’s excellent modern art in Malmö, no doubt. And not just at the Malmö Konsthall, which Wikipedia bills as “one of the largest exhibition halls in Europe for contemporary art” (who would have thought, in Malmö, Sweden!). Malmö is also the setting of Bo Widerberg’s classic film, Kvarteret Korpen (Raven’s End — 1963), which was nominated for an Academy Award for best Foreign Film in 1965 (it’s about a young aspiring writer, Anders, who lives in a rundown, working class section of Malmö in the 1930s, and the struggles he faces to publish his first novel, escape the turmoil of his family life and ever-quickly demanding relationship, and move to the land of plenty, Stockholm).
While I was preparing to leave Malmö, drenched from the rain, waiting for my underground train back to Copenhagen, I saw something that just floored me. Across the tracks, on the grey cement wall, were images floating by, framed in the shape of an old photographic film reel. They weren’t still images, however, as I realized after a few moments. It was moving film footage, and on it there were people actively doing things–working, walking dogs, waving back at me!–and the people appeared to be in places from all over the world. It felt a bit odd that some of the people seemed to be staring at those of us who were on the platform looking at them. But after one scene would drift by, ever so casually, every four minutes (apparently the interval between trains arriving at the station), the scenery would morph into a new place, with new people, doing new things. Some of the locations looked familiar to me, but I can’t be certain, since there were no captions to let the viewer know where the footage was taken. But that didn’t matter. There was something utterly mesmerizing about the installation, and calming. That the artist could make me feel that way — and the folks with whom I spoke about it claimed to feel similarly too — in a cold, grey, subterranean subway station is quite a feat. I’ve since come to learn that the artist is Tania Ruiz Gutierrez, a French, Colombian and Chilean national, who currently lives and works in Paris.
The installation I saw in Malmö’s subway station is called Annorstädes (which is Swedish for “Ailleurs” in French or “Elsewhere” in English). Here’s a blurb from Ruiz Gutierrez’s statement about the exhibit, which underscores the affect she intended it to have on its viewers:
In terms of tempo, Annorstädes is conceived as a release for the individual viewer. The recorded images are slowed down, in contrast with the speed of everyday urban life, in order to ease the experiential flow of time.
In symbolic terms, this artwork highlights the importance of the Central Station as a node; in its primary sense, as a crucial railway link, but also metaphorically as a connection between the city and the entire world.
I took this short film of Annorstädes with my phone from the station platform.
It’s not nearly as good as the several samples of footage on Ruiz Gutierrez’s website, like here and especially here. Dig around. There are a lot of worthwhile images and writings on her website. I haven’t been this captivated by a public art installation in a long time. To echo the comment of one visitor to the exhibit, that is, one Malmö subway rider (or perhaps as the artist herself would have it, one Malmö patron of both the arts and public transportation): “If you’ve seen Malmö, you’ve seen the world. That is now a fact.” Ruiz Gutierrez really pulled this off. Malmö as synecdoche for the global community! Genius. This work punctuated, in a sublime and lasting way, my visit to this southern Swedish city. I hope it’s still there when I return.
As another academic year winds down across the US at colleges and universities, this classic piece from The Onion merits a full reprint (rather than, say, just a tweet). There’s so much material in this and countless other satires in the The Onion that rings incredibly true to real life. This one especially has a lot to unpack. The position titles, book and award names alone are hilarious and priceless for pointing out the often hollow tendency in academia to name drop and for academics to garner prestige based on associations and networking. Reading this I wonder if Professor Rotherberg’s self-assessment isn’t spot on: “Chad’s right. I am totally boring.” Funny stuff.
Professor Deeply Hurt by Student’s Evaluation
Leon Rothberg, Ph.D., a 58-year-old professor of English Literature at Ohio State University, was shocked and saddened Monday after receiving a sub-par mid-semester evaluation from freshman student Chad Berner. The circles labeled 4 and 5 on the Scan-Tron form were predominantly filled in, placing Rothberg’s teaching skill in the “below average” to “poor” range.
Rothberg, though hurt by evaluations that pointed out the little globule of spit that sometimes forms between his lips, was most upset at being called “totally lame” in one freshman’s write-in comments.
Although the evaluation has deeply hurt Rothberg’s feelings, Berner defended his judgment at a press conference yesterday.
“That class is totally boring,” said Berner, one of 342 students in Rothberg’s introductory English 161 class. “When I go, I have to read the school paper to keep from falling asleep. One of my brothers does a comic strip called ‘The Booze Brothers.’ It’s awesome.”
The poor rating has left Rothberg, a Rhodes Scholar, distraught and doubting his ability to teach effectively at the university level.
“Maybe I’m just no good at this job,” said Rothberg, recipient of the 1993 Jean-Foucault Lacan award from the University of Chicago for his paper on public/private feminist deconstructive discourse in the early narratives of Catherine of Siena. “Chad’s right. I am totally boring.”
In the wake of the evaluation, Rothberg is considering canceling his fall sabbatical to the University of Geneva, where he is slated to serve as a Henri Bynum-Derridas Visiting Scholar. Instead, Rothberg may take a rudimentary public speaking course as well as offer his services to students like Berner, should they desire personal tutoring.
“The needs of my first-year students come well before any prestigious personal awards offered to me by international academic assemblies,” Rothberg said. “After all, I have dedicated my life to the pursuit of knowledge, and to imparting it to those who are coming after me. I know that’s why these students are here, so I owe it to them.”
Though Rothberg, noted author of The Violent Body: Marxist Roots of Postmodern Homoerotic Mysticism and the Feminine Form in St. Augustine’s Confessions, has attempted to contact Berner numerous times by telephone, Berner has not returned his calls, leading Rothberg to believe that Berner is serious in his condemnation of the professor.
“I’m always stoned when he calls, so I let the answering machine pick it up,” said Berner, who maintains a steady 2.3 GPA. “My roommate just got this new bong that totally kicks ass. We call it Sky Lab.”
Those close to Rothberg agree that the negative evaluation is difficult to overcome.
“Richard is trying to keep a stiff upper lip around his colleagues, but I know he’s taking it very hard,” said Susan Feinstein-Rothberg, a fellow English professor and Rothberg’s wife of 29 years. “He knows that students like Chad deserve better.”
When told of Rothberg’s thoughts of quitting, Berner became angry.
“He’d better finish up the class,” Berner said. “I need those three humanities credits to be eligible to apply to the business school next year.”
The English Department administration at Ohio State is taking a hard look at Rothberg’s performance in the wake of Berner’s poor evaluation.
“Students and the enormous revenue they bring in to our institution are a more valued commodity to us than faculty,” Dean James Hewitt said. “Although Rothberg is a distinguished, tenured professor with countless academic credentials and knowledge of 21 modern and ancient languages, there is absolutely no excuse for his boring Chad with his lectures. Chad must be entertained at all costs.”
Hip hip, hooray! Hip hip, hooray! The old grey Mace rings in year sixteen today. That’s SIXTEEN. Whoa. A whopping 112 years on the human scale. And it’s also about five years more than her vets suspected she’d be around. Incredible. This past year, number fifteen, she’s been kicking around Europe, living the chic life of a Parisian puppa, playing voetbol in the Netherlands, and of course sleeping a lot on the couch. Raise a glass to Macey. Here’s to you, old grrrl — santé!
No, probably not. One encounters buskers in most cities, especially ones with underground mass transit. The wealth of musicians playing music and hoping to get a little scratch from the busily shuffling hordes in the Paris métro’s extensive tunnels and subterranean caves is certainly not unique to La Ville-Lumière. But this past weekend, something quite unique (at least in my experience) reverberated throughout the cement hallways I walked en route to my transfer. I heard not the sounds I typically hear underground day-to-day: gypsy folk players, the clarinettist extraordinaire, the occasional accordion-double bass duo, acoustic guitarists playing and singing Dylan, and (my favorite) the blistering free jazz trios (esp. in the hallway “delta” approaching ligne cinq at République). No, instead bona fide symphonic sounds echoed throughout the tunnels. And sure enough, around one and then another corner, in the small open space where people from various trains spill out into one another, there it was, a small orchestra. And they were good! Can you name the tune they are playing?