Saturday, June 27, 2009

Various Seattle Arts stuff

Ok, so here's a giant flurry of cool art stuff I saw in Seattle.

I all ready wrote briefly about the installation Moore Inside Out which was phenomenal(flickr stream of the event here). Tuesday night I also saw a great show at the Moore: Goran Bregovic and His Wedding and Funeral Orchestra.

Bregovic is an outstanding performer and composer from Serbia who has scored such brilliant Kusterica films as In the Time of the Gypsies and Black Cat White Cat. The concert audience was mostly Serbs so a good time was assured (Serbs know how to party, trust me I lived with one).

The concert started out slow with Bregovic's orchestra coming out piecemeal. First doleful strains from a string quartet and two female vocalists (in traditional gear) entering stage right. They were answered by the five piece brass section's burbling refrain as they made their way to the stage from the rear of the auditorium. Soon a six member male chorus joined the fray followed by the drummer/lead male vocalist, and lastly after the first song, by Goran himself. The slow stuff quickly gave way to riotous Gypsy rhythms and gloriously huge sounds. There's a reason Bregovic scored Kusterica's maximalist masterpieces, be they of the epic narrative scope variety or the gross-out comedy brand, like Kusterica Bregovic works on a large scale.

I've heard some complaints about Bregovic's performance; this review of the show and even one of the managers of the Seattle gig whom I talked to felt Bregovic doesn't actually DO anything during his shows. There's SOME validity to this: Bregovic doesn't sing during most songs, he plays guitar for only a handful (more often he's playing with his Macbook) and he is seated the whole time. But these criticisms miss a very important point: Bregovic is always conducting his orchestra through his music (or at the least his orchestrations of traditionally Serbian music). The sound is big but it's also incredibly precise, the resulting effect wouldn't be nearly as powerful if Goran's hands weren't guiding the orchestra along. And it IS incredibly powerful music, halfway through the concert the entire audience was standing up and dancing in the aisles, clapping wildly and totally in sway with band. Even Iggy Pop didn't get a reaction like that when I saw him.

The day before I checked out the film Godless Girl which was part of a Trader Joe's sponsored screening of silent films with live organ accompaniment. The event was at the Paramount, which like the Moore, is a glorious old theater. There were a couple protesters outside claiming the regular organist had been unfairly fired. One of the picketers told me that she had heard one of the programmers wanted to hire a rock musician instead ("A ROCK MUSICIAN!!"). Then again, I'm getting the feeling that an event isn't really worth its salt on the West Coast if there's not a protest involved. The replacement (possible scab) organist was serviceable, at the end of the screening he announced he had just received a DVD copy of the film that morning so he had barely any time to prepare. But silent films weren't made to succeed or fail based on the extempore music playing over them, they were made to be purely visual in their storytelling and this film didn't disappoint.

Godless Girl, one of the last silent films directed by the great Cecil B Demille, tells the lurid tale of a high school atheist temptress and an overzealous religious classmate who fall in love at a Dickensian juvie detention center after a rumble they incite leads to the (spectacularly filmed) death of an innocent girl. It's wonderfully over the top --members of the Atheist Club have to renounce God with one hand on top of a Capuchin monkey-- with Demille's usual ingenuity for spectacle. During the aforementioned mele the camera tracks vertically over four flights of stairs filled with kids fighting tooth and nail, and the end of the film features fire scenes that give Gone With The Wind a run for its money.

Did I mention how gorgeous the theater was?



Lower lobby (the foyer to the restrooms)

Recessed lighting in the theater

Screen (with sponsorship) and Wurlitzer

I also checked out the Seattle Art Museum which I loved.
When you walk in to buy tickets you're greeted overhead by Cai Guo-Qaing's Inopportune: Stage One which is made up of nine identical white cars suspended from the ceiling with blinking lighting fixtures protruding from the vehicles. The overall effect suggests an explosion emanating from each car, a beautiful and elegant celebration of the combustion that both fuels these modern beasts and threatens our planet.

SAM had some great stuff in their permanent collection, this Warhol for example:

Don't mess with HIS blue suede shoes!

Two other pieces I loved were Mann Und Maus by Katharina Fritsch, in which a sleeping man covered in a white comforter on a white bed up to his serene face has a MASSIVE black mouse resting on his chest.

The impact of the piece lies in its sheer size. The man's head is life-size so imagine how massive the mouse is by comparison. The sculpture conjures up so many images: the incubus or succubus of Medieval lore crouching on the stomach of it's victim, disease (black plague or HIV), self-destructive nature. No matter how antiseptic, no matter how clean we want to make our lives, there's always some great creepy thing looming over us we can't escape. How many times have we seen mice in our apartments and immediately thought they could climb into our bed while we slumber away defenseless?

Another stunner was this piece Some/One by Do-Ho Suh

It appears to be a beautiful large metalic gown, until you get closer and see what it's made of:

I literally gasped when I saw the dogtags.
The piece is perhaps one of the best metaphors I've seen for our current American Empire, part luxury item, part armor, all sacrifice.

The big exhibit now at SAM is "Target Practice: Painting Under Fire 1949-78" a huge exhibit of pieces by artists who took aim at established conventions of paintings. Everything from Yoko Ono's A Painting To Be Stepped On i.e. a piece of cloth on the ground, to Jasper John's Target and beyond. The exhibit is highly engaging in a cerebral way and the free audio tour voiced by Laurie Anderson is informative and breezy. Though I have to say I went in for another much smaller exhibit, the Andrew Wyeth remembrance which is really a celebration of paint as a traditional medium.

Also I was totally impressed by the African Art collection at SAM which contains excellent examples of traditional cloth, masks, and statues as well as contemporary African Art. My only complaint is that their extensive collection of Dahomian religious statues and offerings were housed in a series of anti-septic glass cubes rather than all together in some semblance of a traditional shrine.

Anywho arts in Seattle, lots to love.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 5 in Seattle

How good is the food in this city? Soooo good it hurts.

I could be at the Nitelite Lounge--a pleasant quintessential dive bar adjascent to my hotel, manned by sweet but sad-eyed bar maids, sprinkled liberally with displays of the Budweiser Clydesdales, and attended by a small dedicated clientele of regular lushes--and
 enjoy a shockingly good tamale: rich with savory cornmeal and chicken in the center with a tangy kick. 
I also had one of their happy hour burgers with fries
 ($4) and was stunned by how good it was. A super thin patty to be sure, but flavorful as hell (read nice and greasy), dressed up with thinly sliced fresh baby tomato slices,
 delicious pickles, and some amazing swiss cheese. The fries weren't bad either.

There's also Falafel King right next to Pike's Place Market which is the best Middle Eastern food I've had outside Istanbul (sorry Moody's Falafel Palace) I had their Chicken Shwarma plate: grilled chicken, cabbage, rice pilaf, and a garlic tahini sauce, with a side salad in a perfectly mixed vinagrette, with a side of houmus and pita ($8.50). I could go on describing how good it was but a picture is worth a thousand words:

Also nearby to Falafel King is Pan African Market which has some amazing freaking Ethiopian food. I had their meat as well as veggie sampler on Indira bread. Both were outstanding. 

In an earlier post I mentioned that Seattlites were pretty serious but their street food. How not unserious about it are they? Just check out their pulled-pork sandwich truck: 

As in everything it's all 
about the details: behold the tail-light.

Also highly enjoyed Cyclops in Belltown where I had a smashing Sunday brunch (a bar you can sit down at and read the paper while you eat is a beautiful thing no matter where you are) at 1pm. To my shock many Seattle restaurants apparently stopping serving Brunch before the PM, at least near my hotel, at least according to the knowledgeable lady at the front desk. Cyclops is roomy and funky with good music and decor that focuses on both eyes (unsurprisingly) and panthers. They even have two large glass displays of cheap panther pottery on one of the walls. I had a good caramelized onion and sundried tomato chicken sausage omelet with home-fries and toast (extra points for having the butter grilled in). Their bloody mary's aren't astounding but the three olives that garnish the drink are. I went back Tuesday night to grab a light supper (chicken quesadillas excellent and $4) and ended up having a lengthy discussion with a coast guard sitting next to me who was wearing a Wonder Woman T-shirt. I was reading "Into the Wild" at the bar and the Coast Guard, who was reading "Portnoy's Complaint," was having none of it, "the kid was an idiot, look I tramped around for a while before settling down, I've camped up there in Alaska, I've camped all over, and you have to be an idiot to do what he did. Maybe he could have survived an experience like that if he stayed in the southern US where it's warm. But to go up there with only a .22 and no tent, not even a decent pair of boots, that's just stupid." 

When I countered that the kid (Chris McCandless) must have had some intelligence to a) survive as long as he did on the road and b) make such a strong impression on the people he met I was shot down quickly. "The kid had short term charisma, he never stayed around long enough in one place for people to get to know him well enough. My brother is like that, he can get anyone to like him for a short period of time." 

The pattern continued.

Me:  But he survived over 100 days out in the Alaskan wild! 

Wonder Woman Coast Guard Guy: Because he found a bus that had been outfitted for hunters with a stove and fuel!

Me: But he shot a moose! A MOOSE!

Wonder Woman Coast Guard Guy: And then let the meat go to waste because he talked to people in South Dakota about how to prepare Alaskan game! They told him to smoke it, he built a smoker after shooting the moose and the smoker didn't work. I mean if you're going to try and preserve meat by smoking it build a smoker first, test it out, so if you do find big game you don't waste time if after you shoot it.

Bottom line:  It's hard to make a persuasive argument for the kind of passion that would compel someone to forsake all that's familiar and common for a recklessly traveled life on the road and in the wilderness when the person you're talking to has a  job that requires them to fish these people out of the life-threatening situations this same passion has landed them in. 

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Wonder Wander Blog!

Due to several requests the focus of this blog will be shifting from current events, politics, and rants to my current nomadic existence. In April I decided I was miserable with the current state of my life in Boston and so I quit my job (program coordinator for the Boston needle exchange) and bought a ticket to Seattle. This summer I'm checking out Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Humboldt County (where I'm doing a month long theater program) points in between, and eventually Burning Man.

Currently I am in my fourth day in Seattle which I must say I like a lot. I could totally see myself living here. People in this city care about food to the point where even the street vendors are gourmet, there are lines around the block for art installations, and crowds that rival Boston pride converge on a neighborhood for the "Solstice Parade" which features naked bicylcists covered in body paint and a float honoring the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Also lots of independent book stores, great coffee, serious drinkers, and decent music playing in almost every establishment I've gone into.

Below are some pics:

The Solstice Parade in Fremont which I'm told is a [rapidly gentrifying] hippie neighborhood (come on they have a SOLSTICE PARADE). How hippie is this neighborhood? there's a de-commisioned cold-era missile now decorated with Xmas lights literally a block away from a massive bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin.

Ok Ok Ok here are the naked people on bikes. Being short (5'6) I couldn't really see them over the crowd during the parade, plus I got there late when most had peddled off. I managed to get this shot before the naked part of the parade ended.

Luckily many nude cyclists opted to do a victory lap
post-procession where I got an unobstructed view.

It's all about the matching shoes...

Yes, that brave soul with the polka dots holding onto his junk for dear life is riding a unicycle!
Also worthy of note the brand of portable toilets are called "Honey Buckets" which is just about the most revolting euphemism for a port-a-john I can imagine.

I also checked out "The Moore Inside Out" which was a massive 50-artist installation that took over the entirety of the Moore Theater for one night. The Moore, which is attached to my hotel, is just over 100 years old and GORGEOUS.
(Pics of the theater exterior and interior not mine)

A massive stage, mezz, and balcony, marble lobby, and an amazing line-up of musical acts. The installation was free and was ABSOLUTELY PACKED WITH PEOPLE. There were some amazing performances and visual projects but my favorite was this simple one: a makeshift structure in the lobby that mimicked the facade elements of the theater held together by red string. When you walked through an archway at the bottom and looked up you saw a beautiful chandelier that the facade had been hiding. Such a subversive piece for an event that was supposed to celebrate the theater as an enduring building.

The building erected to the arts is made clumsy by
and obstructive to the art itself inside.