Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hope Renewed

I was walking along Willoughby Avenue, sidestepping mounds of melting snow, when I saw it: a budding tree.

Spring is on the way!

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Failed Attempt at a Positive Outlook: Legacy Vs. Men in the Cities

In hopes of redeeming myself from my "I Hate Winter" post from mid-January, I had planned to write about Joel Meyerowitz's photo collection Legacy: The Preservation of Wilderness in New York City Parks, which includes some breathtaking wintertime images of nature. Meyerowitz's photos of the furthest reaches of the city's parks provide a glimpse of what so few New Yorkers experience – actually being in nature, completely cut off from the trappings of urbanism, all within our five boroughs. These photos express a calm and beauty that is transcendent.

As I said, my plan was to write an uplifting, positive post about natural beauty. But as I was shuffling through our collection of monographs in search of Meyerowitz's work, I came across Robert Longo's Men in the Cities.

The Men in the Cities series, created by Longo in the late 70s and early 80s, includes large-scale drawings of suited men and women writhing in response to unseen stimuli. Longo saw the figures as representative of Downtown types – both CBGB's and Wall Street, and he described the violent
gestures he captured as emblematic of the time: "that jerking into now." What's special about the book I have is that it focuses on the photographs Longo used as the basis of his drawings, and many of these, unlike the drawings, which are closely cropped, are set against the backdrop of New York City as seen from the rooftop of Longo's South Street apartment building.

It's easy to identify with Longo's frenetically contorted figures. In wending my way through early adulthood in New York, I frequently feel pulled in too many directions, not sure which expectations to fulfill, all the while my business casual attire twisting uncomfortably.... But it's nice to know that Meyerowitz's New York City is out there too, and someday I'll get there.

Left: Pelham Bay Park, Hunter Island, marsh grass and tidal pool, winter, Joel Meyerowitz

Right: Photographic study, Robert Longo

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mythologizing Trees

I read into trees. In them I see symbols of strength, perseverance, stability, renewal. I'm not alone. In revisiting Ovid's Metamorphoses, I came across the beautiful story of Baucis and Philemon. I'd like to share it here. Enjoy.

One day, Jupiter and Mercury visit Phrygia disguised as world-worn travelers in search of shelter and kindness. House after house, the gods are turned away, until they come a hovel and are welcomed by an elderly couple, Baucis and Philemon. The couple is near destitute, but generous nonetheless. Moreover, they are happy and not at all ashamed or self-pitying. Jupiter and Mercury are impressed and resolve to reveal themselves.

As Baucis serves a modest meal, she and Philemon notice that the wine stays plentiful, seeming to replenish itself. The couple realizes they are in the presence of gods and hastily apologizes for the humble offerings. Jupiter and Mercury transform the hovel into a temple and assign Baucis and Philemon as priests, agreeing to grant the couple’s wish that neither should outlive the other.

And so Baucis and Philemon attend to the temple until one day, while reminiscing over their long and happy life together, each notices the other putting forth leaves. "Fairwell, dear companion," they whisper as they transform into an oak and a linden tree, sprouting from the same trunk.

For Alex, my oak tree.